Monday, December 04, 2006

A Tale of Two Oregon Businesses

Let me disclaim at the outset: this is not meant to be a blanket endorsement OR condemnation for the two Oregon-based businesses I'm about to discuss; for all I know the "good one" in this case has its own hidden blemishes, while the "bad one" has done many things for its community and is only now making the best of an unfortunate situation. So I'm not laying judgement in toto on either of them--but insofar as the stories below are concerned, you bet I'm gonna judge!

Back in 1975 when I moved to Virginia, Nike was mostly still a gleam in Phil Knight's, eye, and thus for me there was little competition for the informal title of "Oregon's Signature Business"--it was fruitpacker and holiday stalwart Harry and David, of Medford. I knew they also owned Jackson and Perkins--the flowers-by-mail version of H&D--and although that company actually started in New York, its eventual synonymousness with top quality roses only adds cachet to H&D's status as "Oregon company" nonpareil. Maybe there were other, more recognizable companies back in the day (White Stag, maybe?), but it didn't hurt their visibility with me that we received holiday fruit baskets from friends for several years after leaving Oregon.

So I have a soft spot in my heart for the company, and I couldn't help but get the warm fuzzies as I ran across this blurb in The O today:
Harry & David sent more than 1,000 food gifts with Gov. Ted Kulongoski when he visited Oregon National Guard troops in Afghanistan last week.

The donated packages containing snacks of chocolate, pretzels, popcorn and nuts were assembled at the company's Medford plant and delivered to the Oregon National Guard for distribution to troops in Afghanistan, and Kulongoski handed them out, the company said.

"During the holidays, all of us at Harry and David will think about the troops opening their gifts, knowing they are thought of now and throughout the year," said Bill Williams, president and chief executive of the company direct-mail gourmet food gift company.
Damn straight--and while it sucks that travel logistics were likely too complex to allow sending pears and apples, the snacks that Ted brought with him probably went over quite well. Kudos to H&D for thinking of our men and women overseas!

Contrasting that example of we're-all-in-this-togetherness is the Cascade "Christian" High School in nearby Jacksonville. In somewhat of an ironic flip of the situation surrounding the Prineville Palins, who were the first M37 claimants to be offered money (except they wanted the waiver!), Cascade Christian is primarily seeking monetary redress one way or the the tune of $1.85 million.

Not knowing anything of the history before reading the Mail Tribune piece, I called reporter Sanne Specht to flesh out the details. The school has wanted to sell the school site for some time, and offered it to Jacksonville City in order to be, as Specht put it, "y'know, a good neighbor." They were not so neighborly as to name a price, however, and after much calculation and several conditions for rectifying issues with the property the City came up with $3mil. Cascade said no, and then took their sweet time answering the question "well, what DO you want for it?" by asking for $5mil.

After the laughter at City Hall had died down, much the same way that the Petulant Palins turned to M37 as a mode of blackmail/revenge, Cascade has figured they can get most of what they want by asking the City for $1.85mil, as compensation for "special protecting" zoning restrictions on the property near the town's historic core. “After a lot of research, determination and a lot of prayer, it was decided that (filing this claim) was our only option,” said the school's superintendent.

Since the school had been trying to sell the land before making the claim, Cascade can't pretend they want to develop the property. They still want to sell the land--but they want more than $3mil for it, and they figure they can do that either by selling the property with an approved waiver, or by selling it as is and using the M37 compensation to make up the difference. I guess it's at least something that they're not lying about their intentions:
Johnson said Cascade must realize as much profit as possible for its Jacksonville property to fund the construction of its new school in Medford.

Our motive (in filing the claim) is we need to build a new building in Medford,” he said.
Not exactly an endearing move, is it? "We want to get out of your town and move to the city next door...and either you help us pay for the move, or you let us sell the land to a developer who will do God knows what with it!"

I see two big practical problems with their approach, beyond the obvious finger in the eye to City officials. If it's really the money they seek, they can forget it: Jacksonville has not had a M37 claim to deal with before, but it's safe to say they don't have 1.85 big ones to throw around on them. Cascade had to know this, so their hope must be that they can gain the waiver, then try to sell the property privately with the waiver attached. But transferrability of the waiver is a VERY open question in state legal circles, and with the flip of the Legislature to the Democrats last month, there's not going to be any support coming out of Salem this session for granting that right.

Furthermore, as Specht noted to me, the City's original offer was contingent on several conditions being met for the sale. This article she wrote in March points out that Jacksonville's public sector could really use the space, but renovations on the "aging structures" could add another $4mil to the price tag. One imagines that a new developer could probably do a tear-down of the historic school building rather than renovate, but would the zoning waiver really be enough to bring the asking price up by almost 40%? And what would they put there--a Best Buy? (Nope; also in today's Trib is word that a 29-acre site off Hwy 62 will become just that, along with a massive, 45,000 sqft Sportsman's Warehouse.)

With each squabble over M37 that comes up, the idea that it was simply a way to let little old ladies build a house for their kids and grandkids down on the farm becomes more and more of a farce. This is about the triumph of the individual (and corporations are individuals in our society) over the common, and material greed over community. Maybe when Cascade moves to Medford proper for their newer, better location, they can be introduced to the folks at Harry & David, and maybe learn how to be a positive force for the area, instead of a headache and a drain on public resources.