HEPPNER — A century-old building in Heppner was rescued from the wrecking ball as the result of a shared vision and the sheer determination of a number of people in South Morrow County.

The Gilliam and Bisbee Building recently underwent an approximately $1.9 million renovation project that not only saved the historic structure, but filled a need in the community as a gathering space. The 14,000-square-foot building houses a large event center with a performance stage, a welcoming lobby and a commercial-grade kitchen on the main floor. To accommodate overnight guests (which can be rented via Airbnb), the second floor features four large suites, including a bunkhouse, and a large common area. There’s also a conference room, office space and elevator access.

Not long after being sworn-in as a Morrow County commissioner in 2017, Melissa Lindsay and fellow board members wrestled with the fate of the building, which the county owned. After the completion of the Bartholomew Building in late-2015, Gilliam and Bisbee no longer served as the county’s government administration building.

While they appreciated the building’s history, the commissioners faced a tough decision. The cost to maintain Gilliam and Bisbee outweighed what it was collecting in rent, Lindsay said. With fiscal responsibility in the forefront, the public works director proposed demolishing the structure and creating a parking lot.

The commissioners, Lindsay said, weren’t really in favor of a parking lot, but maintenance costs were adding up. She asked for a little more time before a final decision was made regarding the building’s fate.

“I said, ‘Let me do some research and find someone that preserves historic buildings.’ I knew what a gem it could be and a cornerstone to the community,” Lindsay said.

After reaching out to several organizations that had done similar restoration projects, Lindsay didn’t have to go far to find the right person. A fifth generation Morrow County resident, Kim Cutsforth, executive director of the Howard and Beth Bryant Foundation, agreed to spearhead the effort. She formulated the Heppner Community Foundation for the project.

“Kim had ideas, including the idea that it would be the pride of Heppner instead of a parking lot,” Lindsay said.

Cutsforth did her homework, meeting with a structural engineer and architect before further tackling the project. In addition, she toured a handful of event venues in the region to incorporate ideas. After working on numerous capital construction projects, Cutsforth also knew she wanted Allstott Construction of Heppner to serve as the contractor.

“I didn’t just hire a friend, I hired someone I knew would give me an accurate number,” she said. “I expected when I was done that we would be over, but we were right on the number. It’s amazing to me.”

David Allstott, Cutsforth said, also added special touches to the project. Efforts in preserving the building’s history included not painting over the original shipping instructions on a center support beam in the ceiling.

Foundation board member Sandy Matthews agreed, saying Cutsforth and Allstott shared the same vision.

“David put his heart into the building,” she said.

Foundation members use such words as “a gem,” “beautiful” and “historically significant to Heppner” in describing the Gilliam and Bisbee Building. The consensus among those serving on the Heppner Community Foundation board — including Lindsay, Matthews, Patti Allstott and Joe Armato — was that it was important to save the building.

Located on the southeast corner of Main and May streets in Heppner, it was constructed in 1919. Named after business partners Frank Gilliam and Tim Bisbee, it replaced the original Gilliam and Bisbee Hardware Co., which was lost to a fire.

It was originally constructed for the hardware business and additional office space. In later years, it became home to Coast-to-Coast, Heppner Hardware and housed various offices.

“I think now, it’s at its most finest use because there is access to everyone to use it and appreciate it,” Patti Allstott said.

The National Register of Historic Places categorizes its architectural classification as 20th Century American Movements: Commercial Style. Regardless of how it’s described, numerous people in the community agreed that it was worth saving.

“In a small community like this, the historical value is important. Once you tear it down, you can’t get it back,” Armato said. “Also, it’s a great location, it’s right in the heart of downtown.”

Cutsforth, Allstott and Matthews all agreed the addition of the event center as a gathering space serves dual purposes — both bringing people downtown and inviting them to stay.

“I’m just very grateful to the foundation and that we were able to save a historic building and make it something wonderful for everyone to use for the next century to come,” Allstott said.

For more information, contact Cutsforth at altakim541@gmail.com.

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Contact Community Editor Tammy Malgesini at tmalgesini@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4539.

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