Image Source: Herald and News

Recently the most compelling downtown historical facade went away as the tears of those who admired it rained like acid. There should have been a funeral–or at least a wake–following the avoidable destruction of the Egyptian building aka “Balsiger” ordered by the City of Klamath Falls. The senseless demolition (we’ll explain why it was senseless) of this historical building is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with the City of Klamath Falls and why the incumbents need to go. Mayor Todd Kellstrom and Council member Bud Hart are seeking reelection to positions they’ve held for a quarter of a century, so it is impossible to escape their involvement in the demise of this irreplaceable landmark.

In a nutshell:

Over the past two decades, the City of Klamath Falls made many decisions with the potential to either boost or degrade economic prospects for the site. The City consistently edged toward ruining the site’s viability with faulty policy-level decision making. The most recent chapter involved acquiring the property to apply hidden incentives to entice a developer. This occurred after many years of harassment and use bans that drove away anyone attempting to utilize the property. In essence, City sanctions ruined the functionality of the property until there was no choice but to sell at a low price in lieu of acquisition by condemnation. (The City paid $250,000 for the property that received purchase offers as high as $1.4 million in 2009).

Some groups desperately tried to save the building. Note what they say about Councilman Hart: http://klamathwritersguild.org/gpage3.html

There were other options for this building we’re calling the Egyptian, the centerpiece of the Balsiger Ford dealership constructed in 1929. By 2016, it was one of only three remaining Egyptian Revival buildings in the entire country. It didn’t receive much national attention because there was never an official campaign to get it on the national historical registry, though insiders suggested it would have been welcome. By most accounts and historical references, everyone in Klamath considered it a historical icon. There is ample evidence that the City didn’t try very hard to conserve it, and worse, plotted the demise for some time.

Highlights:

  • The Mayor presides over all hearings and appoints all committees. He controls the discourse, which means a property like this can either stay or go depending on whether he thinks it should. There are cozy relationships with people involved in construction and real estate among his appointees.
  • The Council members ultimately vote on such policy matters and also have the power to sway each other. Rather than seek creative alternatives, Bud Hart chose to side with his crony. The Mayor had the final deciding vote in such matters.
  • The City indicated they decided to demolish the building because they talked to developers who said they should at this point. Thus, the City’s primary motivation was driven by the profit motive of a developer, not the will of the citizenry.
  • The main reason the building was unattractive to developers was the placement didn’t fit the site well. This is due to how the surrounding properties have changed. The Egyptian Building portion fronted an intersection as the main entrance, opposite of where the parking would be. Valid point. However, for five years, a run-down property had been for sale on the opposite corner. This property sold for only $45k in 2015. Had the City acquired and leveled that site, there would have been a parking option that would have restored the value of the historic Egyptian entrance. They could have added to that several sites that have been unused for for sale in the immediate vicinity. Several City Council members were approached with this strategy years ago and rejected it. All City leaders were aware of the property for sale.
  • The City drove Harry Mauch off the property. He had subleased the property and spent over $150,000 to renovate the outside and interior as an event center. Mauch couldn’t afford to meet endless demands from Klamath’s code nazis enforcing City Council-driven policies. The City Council was not supportive of use as an event center and never bothered to intervene with variances Mauch needed to stay viable. The last straw came with the City ordered an upgrade to the fire suppression system that would cost over $30,000 just for the special valve the City required on the water main. This much fire suppression in a mostly concrete building with a concrete floor? Ironically, Mauch recounted being told by a plumber the City didn’t likely have enough water capacity to support their requirement in the event of a fire. As Mauch put it, “I never felt like the City wanted me there. They’re always coming up with new requirements and conditions on this site that never had to do these things before.”
  • The local newspaper used to be across the street. When they needed more space, the City made no attempt to facilitate their expansion onto the Balsiger property. For the paper, it was less costly to spend millions of dollars on a new site beyond downtown rather than deal with the City’s draconian parade of rules for restoration and use.
  • The City spent $250,000 buying the site and at least $92,000 on demolition. There are many other costs that haven’t been disclosed. They could have used the funds to acquire lesser properties opposite the Balsiger in order to save the egyptian portion. In doing so, they could have remedied a quagmire of an intersection that will require even more funds to deal with in the future.

Searching for the building on the Internet suggests that many people loved knowing it existed, which had a secondary effect of boosting tourism for those enamored with it. Here’s a site that enjoys roadside architecture that expressed awe and appreciation for the building they assume still exists.

Nobody can bring back the Egyptian, but you can take revenge on the bad people most responsible for taking it away from the community. Don’t let the sacrifice of the Balsiger Egyptian building be in vain…channel your anger into action by voting Kellstrom and Hart out of office. Be sure to share this story so others may reconsider their voting position.