On May 21 Joshua Hockenson started packing up his storage unit at Lucky Horseshoe Storage Facility on the north side of Bend. Inside were some prized possessions from his travels; a tapestry from Thailand, a painting of the Thousand Hand Buddha from Bhutan and the hiking gear he'd brought on his journey. Hockenson flew over 2,000 miles from Hawaii to retrieve his stuff, and if he didn't it could've been lost forever.
The Oregon Department of Transportation acquired the property where the storage facility was located on Dec. 31, and has since been trying to contact tenants to let them know they need to collect their stuff or it will be moved and could eventually be auctioned off. ODOT representatives said the task was made more difficult by the former owner, Joel Gisler, who didn't provide ODOT with a list of tenants until mid-May, well after it was supposed to be evacuated, ODOT said. The facility was claimed through eminent domain as part of the expansion and realignment of Highway 97 to help reduce congestion. Work is set to begin in the fall and conclude by winter 2024.
"We actually just received the list from the former owner last week (as of May 24)," said Kacey Davey, public information officer at ODOT. "That was the time when everyone was supposed to be out already. There were still 20 folks left that we hadn't gotten in touch with." Gisler, the property's former owner, did not respond to numerous voicemails when this article went to print.
By now only five people remain unreachable by ODOT. Prior to that the tenants of the 500-unit facility had to learn via word of mouth, social media, news stories or legal notices in The Bulletin. Hockenson, who began renting a space in the summer of 2020, only found out by noticing discrepancies in his bank account.
"The only way I found out that this place was closed was by not seeing that I had autopay deductions taken out," Hockenson said. "Then I had looked it up because it was, I think, January was last time they charged me."
main reason I had a storage unit was I had this rare, one of a kind couch from 1931, all original upholstery, original stuffing, and mice destroyed it.”—Kombo Lynntweet this
Hockenson will spend nearly $2,000 on his trip to save his belongings and would've paid more if he didn't have friends who helped with lodging and travel. Others reported they continued to be charged after the property changed hands and that the facility, only recently built, didn't protect their items.
"I noticed that there were definitely openings in it for rodents to get into and you could tell had been neglected. There's padding that goes in the ceiling that had come down," said Kombo Lynn, a Lucky Horseshoe tenant who was recently made aware the facility closed down. "The main reason I had a storage unit was I had this rare, one-of-a-kind couch from 1931, all original upholstery, original stuffing, and mice destroyed it."
A class-action lawsuit was discussed among tenants, but it never materialized after the group had trouble finding a lawyer to take the case, according to a potential plaintiff.
ODOT said Gisler, the former owner, never gave a reason for his refusal to hand over a tenants' list. Gisler took ownership of the property in 2007 along with his wife Julia. The property was transferred over from Patrick Gisler, according to county records. It sat undeveloped until the Lucky Horseshoe was built throughout 2018 and incorporated in 2019. A year before it got built, ODOT made an offer to buy the property for its North Hwy 97 improvement project— a project that's been discussed as early as 2008 and finally got funding through the state in 2017.
"We considered buying the property in 2017 through an early acquisition process, but it didn't work out at that time," Davey wrote in an email. "We started the acquisition process for the property in summer 2021, knowing that the project was fully funded and ready to break ground in 2022."
When ODOT sought to acquire the property in 2017 it would've had a real market value of around $1.5 million, according to Deschutes County property records. By the time ODOT negotiated with Gisler during the summer of 2021 the value had nearly quadrupled to just under $6 million, valuing the property's structures at $4.8 million. According to public records, Gisler, a builder and developer who's lived in Bend over 50 years, owns dozens of properties in Deschutes County and his trust has owned and operated storage facilities.
ODOT's been left to pick up the pieces of Gisler's land sale, contacting and paying relocation benefits to tenants for the trouble of finding new storage units. The sale is going through the court process and ODOT said it can't provide the specific price it paid, but the offer is "fair market value." ODOT's hoping the remaining tenants can be reached rather than resorting to auctioning off units.
"We don't exactly have a plan yet; we'll probably move the belongings somewhere else for now. And in the future, hopefully someone will reach out," Davey said. "We're still hoping to have everything claimed."