UMATILLA COUNTY — At a June 14 open house, Pendleton developer Al Plute got to celebrate a rare run of success.
Some units were still underdeveloped, but Plute’s finished studio and one-bedroom apartments at the Bowman Building show his effort to convert old offices to upscale apartments is coming to fruition.
Plute said he tried to save as many historic features of the third floor of the 17 S.W. Frazer Ave. building, which started its life as a hotel before it was converted to an office building in the late 20th century. Although the building has been in use since he’s owned it, he recently made the decision to convert the entire third floor to apartment units.
Plute isn’t the only person who’s tried a hand at restoring an old building for modern use.
The owners of Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery in Pendleton decided to turn an old car dealership at 511 S.E. Court Ave., into a combination restaurant-liquor production facility in 2015 and are now one of the more popular dining establishments in town.
And a group of business partners are in the midst of turning a vacated Elks Lodge into a performance venue and bar.
The city’s been supporting these kinds of projects for years, but Plute has been the only one who has consistently been able to turn the downtown’s underused buildings into viable projects.
The Pendleton Development Commission, a subsidiary of the city government, has studied the issue and found that most building owners are too wary of the risks and effort to take the plunge on a seven-figure restoration.
Within the downtown core, Plute has restored the St. George Plaza, the Brown Building, and the Bowman Building into modern apartment complexes.
Some projects have been more difficult than others.
Plute said he acquired the St. George in 2008, and he’s still restoring a building that was in rough shape when he bought it, pointing to new mailboxes he recently installed at the 15 S.E. Emigrant Ave. building.
Plute advised other developers looking into restoration to have a good idea of what they want out of the building before starting and applying for grants from the development commission if it’s within the downtown area.
With three downtown restoration projects nearly under his belt, he’s already aiming for another. Plute recently purchased the Odd Fellows building on Dorion Avenue with the plans to turn the empty upper story space into more upscale apartments.
Hermiston developer Mitch Myers is on the same track. He renovated one of the city’s oldest buildings, the town’s original bank on the corner of Main Street and Highway 395, into mahogany-lined offices downstairs and an Airbnb apartment upstairs.
The apartment was restored as close to its 1910-era origins as possible, with Myers even tracking down a wallpaper company that creates prints using the methods employed at the turn of the century.
Myers has repurposed other century-old Hermiston buildings, including an old coal storage facility he plans to lease to a restaurant and turning an old railroad storage facility into the Maxwell Siding Event Center.
Rounding out restoration efforts in Hermiston, the Union Club of 1940s Hermiston is making a return later this year. The building at 140 N.E. Second St. has housed a wide variety of businesses in its more than 100-year history — including, for a time, the offices of the East Oregonian — but will once again become the “Union Club,” a gathering space serving coffee by day and becoming a bar by night.