Land owners working to develop new shopping center

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Developers of a 15-acre property on Highway 20, across from the former Cedar Shack restaurant, say they are planning a retail shopping center and storage for the site that they hope will include two larger anchor stores along with a variety of smaller shops and services.

Owner Scott Lepman, of Albany, and real estate consultant Michael J. Foley of Portland met Aug. 25 with local business leaders at the Breakfast Club, an educational forum for the local business community.

They plan a standard retail center “somewhere in the range of 100,000 square feet,” Foley said. The back of the property will be storage units.

Foley said that the owners, Lepman and his brother Spencer Lepman, and he believe that Sweet Home has a lot of untapped customers for merchants.

“What strikes me when we look at the demographics of Sweet Home and draw an approximately five-mile circle around the city, is that we believe those people have to go to Sweet Home to shop,” he said. “In that area there is 12 to 15,000 people that are basically all driving the wrong direction out of town for most of their goods and services.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey, here’s a great opportunity for everybody to benefit, especially when gas is $3 a gallon. Why do you want to drive 40 miles for items you need, even if you can save a nickle by going to Home Depot.'”

Foley, who said he has been involved in similar projects in smaller cities such as Stayton and Silverton, said that the plan is to try to bring in two co-anchors for the center.

“I hate to name names, but something like a Bi-Mart or a grocery store,” he said. “Larger tenants that would be a substantial draw.”

The rest of the center would be smaller retailers or services such as a pizza restaurant, a deli, a dry cleaner or specialty offices such as medical or mortgage services, he said.

Scott Lepman said that he’s hoping to break ground when the ground dries out next spring. He said the developers are working through the regulatory process to get approvals because the property includes wetlands and because of its size.

“We’re working with the city and the state agencies to get approvals and we’re developing a marketing plan,” he said.

Karen Owen, economic development coordinator for Sweet Home Economic Development Group, said that additional stores would help attract people to town.

“It’s something I’ve heard again and again ? this community has lack of shopping, things that people want,” she said. “For travelers, having an array of goods and services is important.”

Owen also said that residents need more retail stores and services than are available in Sweet Home.

“I think that it’s important to understand that when people move to the community, they have certain expectations about infrastructure ? and certainly, retail is part of infrastructure,” she said.

Foley emphasized that all plans now are “very preliminary” and that the partners are not looking to drive other merchants out of business.

“We’re trying to be sensitive to who’s here, who’s not, and bring goods and services that aren’t here into the community,” he said. “We want to be part of the community. We’re not trying to shove Portland down people’s throats.”

Don Hopkins, a member of the school board and the fire district board, who attended the Breakfast Club meeting, said he’s encouraged by what he heard at the meeting.

“I think this is going to be a great thing for Sweet Home,” he said. “I feel that something definitly is going to happen with this project.”