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Media contact: Paul Neville, 541-743-7121


Cottage Grove’s Omer building is glowing at 90

Categories: Email Newsletter, Housing, Jobs, Staff Stories
Author: Judy Hunt, enews editor
Date: Monday, March 26 2012
SVdP Housing Developer Nora Cronin is holding up as renovation of the Omer Apartments winds down.
old brick building historic building
Kern Building with the original Omer Apartments sign (right). A Rexall drugstore occupied the corner for approximately 70 years. Newly renovated Omer Apartments, Circa 2012.

Situated amid a cluster of tall structures in downtown Cottage Grove, the Omer Apartments glow in the morning sunshine. And they should. After nearly 90 years of housing businesses, tourists and now tenants, the historic Omer Apartments (a.k.a. Kem Building) has received a major facelift thanks to grants awarded to St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County by Oregon Housing and Community Services and Pacific Power Foundation.

So the Omer building was looking good the morning of March 26 when Doris Johnston of Pacific Power presented the Foundation’s award to Terry McDonald, Executive Director of SVdP. Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of South Lane Mental Health, also received a check to help low-income residents of South Lane access health care.

A person unaware of the winter-long Omer rehab might not notice the changes that mostly tower overhead. But one with an eye for masonry will see that Omer’s weathered bricks have been repointed with mortar in the historically correct shade. The roof is new. The chimney that caused leakage from the roof to the basement has been removed and many of its bricks used to replace others that had eroded.

A new cream-colored cornice rings the roofline like a crown and has been carefully matched to the original design and color. Other repairs to the trim have been matched in style and color to the original.

The crumbling plaster roof of the "tunnel" has been repaired. That's the part of the second story that spans the rear alley, a distinctive feature of the Omer Apartments.

Inside, occupants of Omer’s 12 affordable apartments are enjoying the benefits of a water-tight, well insulated building with a new electric heater in each unit. They have new vinyl floors and low-flow toilets, and get plenty of hot water from upgraded heating units. The common areas have new carpet.

As the owner of a 120-year-old home in Cottage Grove, South Lane Mental Health's Tom Wheeler appreciates the charm that attracts visitors to old downtown, and the importance of maintaining it.

“I think it makes all difference in world,” he said. “It makes Cottage Grove a place people want to visit.”

Doris Johnston said that the Pacific Power Foundation was pleased to assist two agencies, SVdP and South Lane Mental Health, that benefit its customers who need a little extra help.

Over the decades the Omer building has housed pharmacies, restaurants, a shoe store, and even the local newspaper. Now it’s a fitting home to Victoriana Antiques & Costumes, along with its residential tenants.

3 people outside building
SVdP's Terry McDonald with Doris Johnston of the Pacific Power Foundation and Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of South Lane Mental Health.

They won’t have to wait decades for the next upgrade because St. Vincent de Paul will be setting aside money each month for future maintenance needs, something that couldn’t be done before all the energy-saving upgrades were installed.

“In order to keep our rents as low as it needs to be and serve population that we need to serve, we wouldn’t have been able to do this work ourselves without raising rent,” said Project Manager Nora Cronin. “That’s why it’s wonderful to get grants from OHCS and Pacific Power and be able to give new life to an old building.

“Now that we’ve caught up on maintenance we can move forward with a plan.”