ODOT Looks to Collect the Former Site of a Collections Agency

The owner was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who lived large.

Address: 1626 N Vancouver Ave.

Year built: 1906

Square footage: 1,808

Market value: $479,160

Owners: Richard C. Williams, Judith C. Williams

How long it’s been empty: Since the mid-2000s

Why it’s empty: The collections agency there closed.

Rick Williams was a colorful guy.

A 1967 graduate of Sunset High School, he flew helicopters in the Vietnam War, where his buddies called him “Tuna,” because he looked like Charlie, the spokesfish for Star-Kist. He earned a Silver Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross and nine other medals, according to an obituary.

After the war, he returned to Portland and got into the collections business. He worked at United Finance, Westinghouse Credit, and Goodyear before opening his own agency in 1979 in an old house on North Vancouver Avenue in the Rose Quarter.

Williams did well. Once, he flew to London on the Concorde and returned on the Queen Elizabeth II. He rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the Sturgis, S.D., rally 25 times.

Williams ran his collections agency until the mid-2000s. After it closed, he kept making money there by offering parking for Blazers games and renting billboard space to advertisers.

Williams died in August. Now, the Oregon Department of Transportation has its eye on his property, which sits in the middle of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project. The state plans to cover part of Interstate 5, replacing the series of bridges that cover parts of it now. That cover is slated to go beneath part of Williams’ property.

Neil Olsen, a lawyer who specializes in eminent domain, says ODOT has yet to make the Williams family an offer, but the agency has indicated one is coming. Eminent domain allows government to expropriate property for its use, with compensation.

Olsen has seen lots of eminent domain cases. What puzzles him about this one is that ODOT wants the property permanently. The Williamses understand that most of it will be used only temporarily, as a staging area for equipment and materials. From Olsen’s reading of the proposed plans, the only thing ODOT would need forever is a narrow swath along Northeast Broadway.

If that’s the case, Olsen says, ODOT should be pursuing a “temporary construction easement” on most of the property, which takes up almost a quarter of a city block. “They’re saying they want the entire property on a permanent basis,” he says.

ODOT spokeswoman Jenny Cherrytree said in an email the Williams property would be “part of the construction project.” ODOT’s plans show the property blotted out in red, indicating it is slated to be expropriated permanently. “It is always ODOT’s goal to obtain right of way needed for projects with fairness and equity,” Cherrytree says. “We welcome the opportunity to meet with any affected property owner at any time.”

The property just to the south, where the Leftbank Annex stands, is untouched. The Leftbank Annex is owned by a limited liability company controlled by developer Daniel Deutsch, who didn’t return emails or telephone calls seeking comment.

Though the old house on the property is empty and covered in graffiti, the Williams family still operates the parking area during Blazer games, and they still rent out the billboard.

“The Williamses want to keep operating their business,” Olsen says.

One wonders what Rick Williams would have to say about it, were he still alive. His obituary says he liked talking about politics. ODOT’s move would surely get him talking.

Every week, WW examines one mysteriously vacant property in the city of Portland, explains why it’s empty, and considers what might arrive there next. Send addresses to newstips@wweek.com.

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