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May 11th, 2005 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Smoking Out a Fire Bureau Building's History

A tale of hot real estate and a familiar last name.

     
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The newly renovated Portland Fire Marshal's office in Southeast Portland may look unremarkable, but its acquisition was anything but ordinary.

It's a story of the city paying double what the building was valued at a little more than a year before its purchase, and it's one where the seller shares a marquee name in the Fire Bureau.

Go back to September 1999, when the Oregon Petroleum Marketers Association sold the two-lot property at 1300 SE Gideon St. for $175,000. Cliff Olson, the association official who handled the sale, says the price was slightly less than the appraised value. "It needed a lot of repair," Olson says of the building. "The roof was leaking, there were problems with the foundation, and there wasn't enough parking."

A little more than a year later, the city began negotiating with the new owner. The fire marshal and staff needed new quarters, and the bureau was flush after the 1998 passage of a $54 million bond.

Despite finding the new owner had done little more than fix the roof, the city's appraiser said the property value had more than doubled to $360,000. After reviewing the appraisal, the city paid even more-$408,550, the Multnomah County Assessor's real market value for the parcel. The Fire Bureau in 2002 embarked on a comprehensive building renovation that is not yet complete.

Diana Holuka, the city's property manager, says she doesn't recall much about the transaction except the seller was tough. "He wouldn't take the appraised value," she says.

The identity of the seller adds another twist.

Records show Michael Jerry Sprando, now 40, bought the building in 1999. Sprando is an uncommon last name but a prestigious one in the Fire Bureau: Greg Sprando retired as a battalion chief two years ago, and his brother Dave Sprando was named chief in April.

Chief Sprando says he had "absolutely nothing" to do with the transaction. Greg Sprando recalls stopping by the building to chat with Michael, who he says is a distant cousin. He doesn't remember discussing the property.

Chief Sprando says he last had contact with Michael Sprando at a family reunion a couple of years ago and that the two have "no relationship."

He adds that then-Chief Robert Wall told him in 2000 or 2001 that a Sprando was involved in selling the property. "I knew a Sprando was selling the building, but that was all I knew," the chief says.

Although Michael bought the property in his own name, the entity that sold the building to the bureau (without a broker) is MJS Investments LLC. Only after that sale did Michael Sprando convey the property from himself to MJS Investments.

Michael Sprando did not return several messages.

City Commissioner Erik Sten, who hired David Sprando as chief, says, "I think the facts warrant an investigation...but I'd be very surprised if we find that Chief Sprando was anything other than highly ethical."

 
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