Salem, Ore. — Mayor Chuck Bennett is delivering the following speech at the State of the City address today at the Salem Convention Center. Watch the video provided by CCTV below.



Thank you all for coming today… And our thanks in particular to the Sprague High School String Quartet.

Before I begin, I’d like to introduce members of the Salem City Council:

Councilor Cara Kaser – Ward 1

Councilor Tom Andersen – Ward 2

Councilor Brad Nanke – Ward 3

Councilor Chris Hoy – Ward 6

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke – Ward 7

Councilor Jim Lewis – Ward 8

Unfortunately, Ward 4 Councilor Jackie Leung and Ward 5 Councilor Matt Ausec, were unable to be with us today.

Also present today are Salem’s City Manager, Steve Powers, and City of Salem department heads. I’d like to ask ALL City of Salem staff to stand and be recognized. 

Now, I’d like to acknowledge other elected officials present and ask you to stand.

I especially want to thank the Chamber of Commerce, City Club and downtown Rotary for sponsoring this event. Each year you give our community an opportunity to hear how their city is doing – where it’s been and a look at some of the places it’s going. I particularly want to express appreciation for the prayer from Pastor John Lipton of the Capital Baptist Church on our behalf. It’s an inspiring way to end and begin our year.


State of the City Report

As Mayor, it’s my honor and responsibility to present this report.

Each year, the city hears through a city-wide poll of our residents, the issues of most concern to them. This year was no exception. Overriding every other issue was homelessness and its impact on our city. It’s one that is on the radar of every community in the country especially here on the West Coast.

The clear, unambiguous response in Salem was simple – solve it. No excuses, no half measures, no ducking or weaving or hiding its impact on our streets, neighborhoods, business community or the general morale of the city we all love.

To describe it as an enormous challenge for city government is an understatement. The city is constituted to provide services like fire and emergency life-saving actions, police protection, water and sewer, a library, parks, planning, code enforcement and an environment that results in a robust economy. Direct social services have not been part of that mix. But today it is an essential element in meeting the needs of many homeless residents.

I can report to you that we have been successfully realigning our mission to meet this challenge.

Today, Salem provides homes for over 8,000 individuals. These are low-income or homeless residents. The city also maintains a healthy policy of affordable housing development in the private sector.

Our Housing Rental Assistance Program (HRAP) is housing over 269 of our hardest-to-house residents. These are folks who have been unsheltered for at least 10 years and dealing with combinations of health, addiction, trauma, criminal convictions and unemployment. Using the HRAP program, I announced in my first State of the City address three years ago, we have placed them in private apartments with wrap-around services in a program that is the largest dispersed housing first program in the state. The cooperation between our Housing Authority and the Arches program is one that is being studied by many other local governments.

Work is underway today to add another 180 units of housing for this same group. These units and the associated services will deal with post-hospitalization needs in cooperation with Salem Health as well as mental health and other issues that have kept them unhoused.

We are working with this Session of the State Legislature to greatly enhance the work of the city and Community Action Agency to add a badly needed Navigation Center to its services. This will include greatly enhanced programs, services and direct assistance to meet additional needs and connections. It is planned to include a 24-hour-a day room, meals and shelter for 40 more homeless residents.

We also have joined with other local governments to create the regional homeless initiative in Marion and Polk counties, which is focused on increasing the amount of federal dollars coming into our area to deal specifically with homeless issues and individuals.

This work is coupled with a substantially enlarged Union Gospel Mission under construction, housing at the downtown Center for Hope and Safety serving abused women and families, the large network of warming shelters provided by our faith communities, Grace House and other housing options being developed by United Way. All of this offers any unhoused person in Salem an alternative to camping on our public streets.

In total, these responses remove any barrier or excuse for anyone to claim that camping on our community’s sidewalks represents a needed choice or situation. It should finally enable the City Council to follow the clear advice from our City Manager and Police Chief to enact a sit/lie ordinance. It is untenable that after decades of work and tens of millions of dollars to preserve our historic downtown as the vibrant commercial and residential center of this region. It is being jeopardized by the current unnecessary use of our public sidewalks for permanent, 24-7 unsheltered living space with all of the attendant health and safety problems and costs. There are no more excuses for letting this situation continue. The council needs to heed our police chief’s advice to enact a sit/lie ordinance.


I’d now like to turn to the variety of other city activities.

Let’s start with the great news. Our city economy is booming. Our unemployment rate is at a historic low. Construction permit activity remains at a five-year high for all construction types including commercial, industrial and residential projects. In total, about $600 million worth of construction was either completed or underway this past year.

Our city, now the second largest in Oregon, is a magnet for new residents looking for a high quality of life in an affordable home or apartment and a great community to either raise a family or grow old. Preferably both.

We are effectively using the federally developed Opportunity Zone programs and our first major project will be rising from the former location of the Marion Auto Garage on Commercial Street across from the Convention Center. By the way, the Convention Center itself will be adding additional space over the next year. The new project is a badly needed seven-story downtown hotel beginning construction this summer. It will serve the needs of the burgeoning convention and tourist trade in Salem.

There is a housing boom underway in Salem. From July 2018 to June 2019 the city issued permits for 317 apartment units and in 2019, 429 permits were issue for single family and duplex units.


The downtown is thriving. Throughout last year we saw new businesses locate or expand downtown and there are several more in planning or under construction. It totaled $17 million of completed new housing, commercial and office buildings on or adjacent to our riverfront. Our urban renewal grants continue to encourage private investment in our downtown. Perhaps the most visible project is the construction of 146 micro-unit apartments on the old McMahon’s site that had been vacant for a decade. The Nordstrom site has been sold to a local team and is actively working on leasing.

Western Oregon University has purchased the Vick Building on Ferry Street and will focus its higher education offerings to working professionals with most classes in the evening including a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. Add to that Willamette University’s agreement with Claremont School of Theology to relocate to Salem as part of the historic university’s expanding educational opportunities.

The city also is celebrating the 15th year of the Salem Convention Center opening. In that time, it has had 1.2 million event attendees, and made more than $51 million in total net revenue. It is hosting 580 events each year. Over 103,000 attendees visit and explore Salem and actively visit downtown shops, restaurants and historic sites.

This is only part of our exploding tourist trade which saw 2.5 million people visiting this area. The estimated income from this sector alone is $603 million of economic impact and signals the 11th consecutive year of growth. It also generated $4.4 million in TOT taxes, which go to support the growth of tourism, maintenance of our historic sites and homes, and support art and cultural activities. These programs include the Salem Art Association, Willamette Heritage Center, Deepwood, Bush House, Discovery Village, the Historic Elsinore, the Hallie Ford Art Gallery, and the Multi-cultural Center and its annual World Beat Festival, which has joined the Salem Art Fair as regional events.

The city is in the process of completing its feasibility study for downtown, evaluating the demand for high-speed broadband and/or free WiFi.


As I mentioned, the Union Gospel Mission is underway with its new facility in North Downtown across the street from the new Police Station, which will open in September. UGM will be vacating its current site, which the city is purchasing along with the Saffron hardware building and has slated for future redevelopment. And we can now see the outlines of the new YMCA being built at State and Cottage.

Industrial development at the Mill Creek Industrial site continues with two recent projects of 110,000 square feet of commercial office buildings being developed by PacTrust. At the same time, the Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed a Land Use Board of Appeals decision sending back the City Council denial of the COSTCO move from its current location to South Salem for a review for further council action. Amazon has begun operations in its million-square-foot building and has announced additional space being located at the Panasonic building on Gaffin Road across Highway 22.

Urban Renewal Grants are supporting the Ochoa Queseria’s expansion onto Portland Road and are being used to support new development at Wallace and Glenn Creek, West Salem Machine’s purchase of new equipment, a new sports rehab facility, Xicha Restaurant and brewing and a whole list of other projects.

And in the economic development arena, the city is also finalizing its Salem Airport Business Plan which will be presented soon to the City Council.


Food processing has been an important piece of Salem’s economy for more than 100 years. Food processors have faced substantial challenges. The most notable example has been the bankruptcy and now sale of NORPAC. Most of the company’s assets in Salem have been sold to Lineage Logistics. Plans now will include a lease of the Salem plant. At this point about half of the NORPAC workers are back on the job and employment is expected to be back to the original 480 by spring. There’s a substantial effort to assist all workers seeking new opportunities as well.

In 2019, the city worked with Oregon Fruit in its move to a new facility and with new equipment and efficiencies allowing them to diversify product types and expand operations.


There has been a tremendous effort in our Fire Department to improve its cardiac arrest save rate. I want to report that it has been a tremendous success. The save rate hit 50% while the national average is 32%. And a new protocol being used by only four other cities in the nation is going to increase that save rate to as high as 80%. The department and Fire Foundation, through its schools programs, has trained nearly 18,000 local kids and parents in CPR and the use of AEDs in the past five years. The Pulse Point app now has 17,000 users in Salem with nearly 9,000 CPR responders ready to help save their co-workers and neighbors in an emergency. In addition, the department has led the way in developing a community wide resiliency plan and is working toward informing 30,000 youngsters and parents on needed supplies for sheltering in place for up to two weeks in case of community wide emergency. This program will be broadening into a wide range of community actions and planning needed in these dire cases.

Besides the completion of the new police facility coming this year, the big news was the retirement of Police Chief Gerry Moore. The Chief has agreed to stay on for a while, but the hiring process for a replacement, if there can ever be one, will begin this Spring. No pressure on the new guy. In addition, the police continue to work closely with neighborhood associations, Coffee with a Cop and the Citizen Police Academy. The behavioral health unit in the department has expanded to four officers to assist folks in emotional crisis.

Salem has had tremendous success working with our legislative delegation on a range of local issues. In last year’s session, the city secured a $20 million grant for our drinking water system and is seeking another $10 million to finance additional sources for city water beyond the North Santiam River. The integrity of the drinking water system is now secure from any algal influences. We want to thank the delegation and particularly Senate President Peter Courtney for this work.

Rep. Brian Clem was able to secure $100,000 to move the Peace Mosaic from the old YMCA wall to Riverfront Park. Other state allocations included $250,000 for Liberty House and a $1 million grant for the Gerry Frank/Rotary Amphitheater being developed by the Rotary Club.

The city is currently seeking about $7 million from the Legislature in cooperation with the Community Action Agency to meet additional local homeless needs with a substantially enlarged project that will include a Navigation Center and additional service and shelter spaces.


The city’s Blight to Bright initiative, being managed by the code enforcement section of Community Development, has made major strides in more rapidly removing blighted properties and using lien funds to improve these derelict or dangerous buildings that blight our neighborhoods. This is a tremendous program that benefits all our neighborhoods where abandoned properties have a substantial negative impact. I expect we will see more action on this front and are likely to add to the code enforcement budget by adding a dedicated specialist in this area.

Also in community development, our planning department is well underway with the Our Salem comprehensive planning project. This is the first major review of the city’s comprehensive plan in over 40 years and will help shape our growth areas and patterns for years to come. The visioning process was kicked off this summer and has included more than 75 community events, meetings and gatherings. The outcome of this will be out in March. It will be the foundation of the new plan. I can’t tell you how important this process is to the long-term livability of this community on all levels. Many of the successes and failures we face today in growth and its impacts are the result of long-term planning decisions made in the 1970’s. I can’t stress enough how important this is to Salem’s future.

Community development, through its planning side, also is completing its multifamily housing design project to make it easier to develop badly needed multi-family housing. The department also is working on the Historic Preservation Plan and has worked closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to arrive at a memorandum of understanding that will be extended to the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and the Warm Springs.

It also is completing planning work on the following projects:

East Park development of 695 homes at the site of the former Pictsweet property off Cordon Road, a 264 unit complex on the old state hospital north campus, and a 312 unit apartment complex at Linwood and Orchard Heights in West Salem.

And there are several other multi-unit complexes, including one at the old Fairview Training center for 180-units of apartments.

Just to summarize, the nationally recognized building and safety section department has completed 9,656 permits, and 20,178 inspections on units valued at almost $419 million.

The library has moved into the old Capitol Press building on Broadway as the City Library site is undergoing major seismic renovation. This year they turned on automatic renewal of items and are looking seriously at eliminating all fines and parking fees.

Perhaps the most difficult area of activity in the city to summarize quickly is the substantial impact our Public Works Department has on all of our basic quality of life programs. These include transportation including streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic safety generally; climate action planning; city construction project oversight, like the new police station building; library improvements; our water supply and delivery system; and our sewer and storm drain systems.


Let me just hit some highlights and, believe me, given the amount of work being done by this department it really is only highlights:

  • Developing a strategy to protect our water supply from potential water quantity shortfalls to algal blooms. They have done them all. New treatment systems and a substantial new well system are awaiting funding this year.
  • Playing a key role in development of a city Climate Action Plan through an audit of both the city’s actions and the community’s environment including Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
  • Continuing the city’s sidewalk replacement program along with various rehabilitation programs to meet Americans with Disability standards
  • Overseeing and planning of the library and police facilities in every detail including street improvements at the police site.
  • Launching a new on-line Pedestrian Crossings program and leveraging state and federal money to pay for work on 6 new crossing projects in 2020 and completing two major ones on Commercial and Brown roads.
  • Overseeing the city streetlight program, including installing new lights.
  • Overseeing the city parks including two major parks property acquisitions at Hazelgreen Road and Rees Hill Road adding collectively over 60 new acres of future park land. And have in progress purchases on D street, and Reed Road.
  • Establishing a city tree canopy assessment and new targets for city tree coverage and inventory. They found 42,892 street trees in Salem. They also partnered with Friends of trees to plan 525 large trees and 5,645 small trees or shrubs.
  • Overseeing two major parks construction projects, the Gerry Frank Amphitheatre and a new restroom facility on the north end of Riverfront Park. Both get underway this spring and summer.
  • Guiding the Pringle Creek restoration project including major stream bed reshaping and restoration and ground work on connecting existing paths under Commercial Street to Riverfront park.
  • Developing electricity cogeneration with PGE that produces 1,200 kilowatts of renewable power by burning the biogas produced as a byproduct of wastewater treatment at Willow Lake. This saves the city over $300,000 per year.

I want to mention a couple of other successes in our community that deserve note as we think about the State of Salem.


We are blessed to have one of the finest hospitals in the country and you only need to see the accolades it receives nationally to recognize that. As you’ve probably seen, the hospital is adding a new wing to hold another 150 beds on top of its current 490 beds. That wing is expected to help meet the 30 percent population growth rate we expect over the next 20 years. In addition, the hospital continues to be our largest private employer with 5,000 employees and an economic impact of about $1.35 billion. As we work on our Aging in Place strategy in Salem, one of the major areas we found in cooperation with AARP and Center 50+ was that quality, comprehensive health care is a major issue for independent living of seniors along with transportation, social participation, outdoor participation and engagement, communications,  affordable housing, civic and community support and again – health care. The hospital recognizes this fact and the community’s needs.

I also want to recognize the tremendous work being done by our Transit District, Cherriots. Since September, when the district added Saturday and later evening service, ridership as substantially increased. Weekday ridership is up over 10 percent from last year. Total weekday ridership has reached 1,064,000 this year with the new Saturday service reaching over 100,000 riders since September. Full Fare 30-day bus passes are up 14 percent, Youth Fare 30-day passes jumped 57.2 percent. As we begin to deal with congestion and gas emissions in our city, this is nothing but good news and a tribute to the new board and its efforts.


I hope you find the progress this community is making on all fronts as exciting as I do. With the kind of can-do, volunteer, professional, business and non-profit service underway in this community. I am convinced, no issue no matter how troubling, difficult or challenging we face, we can and will be overcome. And I want to assure you that your city government and elected officials at the city, county and state level will continue to meet the goals you set for us. Nothing is beyond our means or our dreams in every aspect of our community life. So I hope you will all join me in facing 2020 with conviction and a spirit of Getter Done. And I promise you I will be here again next year to give you a report on how it went.

Thank you again for your attention and support.

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