Downtown Eugene

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Planning is a human rights issue

The City Council / Planning Commission work session last night offered interesting contrasts.

The meeting opened with a recap on a number of Human Rights issues, including the work of city officials to deal with these issues in a sensitive manner. People were definately first, in this discussion.

When the Planning session began, human rights were thrown out the window. Not a single threatened downtown tenant or organization was mentioned in the meeting (except a furniture chain store). Most of the threatened tenants are non-profits or collectives, built with a the community sweat equity of thousands of people.

For some reason, architects, planners and officials have a tendency to treat neighborhoods as if they were play-dough, without any interest in their contents. They may have some fantasies about contents, but the actual existing tenants are inconsequential, not mentioned, with a subtext of bigoted denigration (the hidden "we want a better class of people downtown").

In any case, the existing buildings, can be fully rented, to exciting, active and public organizations -- filling the empty spaces should be the goal for downtown, not new construction. This is just common sense.

Monday, November 27, 2006

RFQ development approved

The City just approved the development of an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for a development team for the properties on West Broadway. This will be released in the Spring of 2007, and responses will be received until 60-days after that.

Many of the points brought up in the meeting, and reflected in the RFQ, are very flexible, an uncontroversial. A process that's incremental, yet committed, positive, and which makes downtown a destination and living space, a great street etc.

The issuing of a general RFQ, in 2007, several seasons after the RFQ for the Sears building, is unfortunate, because their goals overlap. Hopefully nothing bad will happen to existing tenants in the meantime.

This is probably the biggest misperception in urban development: that existing organizations should be relocated in oprder to increase density. While that's true when density os beating down the door, it makes no sense when buildings stand empty despite reasonable prices. Creating more square feet of rentable space is obviously not the problem.

Even empty buildings shouldn't be abandoned so quickly. The "Center Court" building has been a successful multi-purpose structure for many years, and an out-of-town architect has suggested putting a theatre there? Millions of dollars would be wasted because of inattention to current resources.

But filled buildings, and the activity within them, should be treated like gold. Under threat are DIVA, The Tango Center, John Henry's, the Jazz Station, MECCA, and a number of other projects people have poured their hearts into. The empty spaces around them cannot be blamed on their hard work, but rather on the inattention of the current landlords, who cannot profit from further investment.

Protect the existing organizations. They are more important than density.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Downtown Collective

The City of Eugene purchased options on a number of buildings downtown. Normally these would be used to negotiate a large development package ... but this approach is both unlikely to succeed (having failed in 10 years to build a single private building downtown) and undesirable (since the result is unlikely to reflect the city's character).

Among the buildings now available for purchase by the city, are the properties that have most usually been considered "locked up", because the owners, the Conner & Woolley families, do not find it feasible to invest in improving the facilities, in coalition with existing or potential local tenants.

This drives me to conclude that the Conner/Woolley portion of the options should thus be bought by the City.

Under city ownership, I propose the buildings be managed by the tenants of the buildings, in a community tenant Downtown Collective. The property would be installed in a City-owned private trust, to allow the Downtown Collective the greatest flexibility, for example to use volunteer or student labor to make improvements and develop activity. The Downtown Collective would also have an advisory non-tenant membership body, and the tenant mangement body would act in mutual benefit with these other downtown groups. The Downtown Collective would officially fall under the final control of Eugene's City Council. It would have city financial tools available to it, under City discretion, to manage and incubate the space, in the most efficient way possible, as measured by regular monthly analysis.

The Downtown Collective would broaden to include any new tenants in the trust. They thus become self-perpetuating, as tenants work hard to make their individual projects succeed through a continuous fabric of activity that attracts and satisfies the public.

Given the above criteria, the following organizations would become the Downtown Collective: Saturday Market, Lane County Farmer's market, DIVA, The Tango Center, The Jazz Station, The New Zone Gallery, Downtown Events Management, Inc., Quan's Restaurant, ShawMed and Pivot Architecture. Participation is of course optional. Note that protecting, and enhancing, the current tenant's activity is a paramount for the coalition.

Note that among the tenant members, the non-profits and co-ops in this list are already coalitions of many other local Eugene groups. These are automatically invited to be part of the tenant group.

The purchase of these buildings, and the formation of a political body to manage them, will itself bring immediate and intense interest to downto Eugene.

For more information, join the Downtown Collective page at

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Searching for answers

According to city staff, the process of looking for developers to invest in downtown is in high gear. They have six months to secure projects, to exercise the options they've taken out on property downtown. However, with the unlikelyhood of subsidies, and the high option price, it is not clear that there is any room for profit, in any standard redevelopment prospect in the footprint.

While the city staff pursues this as yet unfruitful approach (dozens of private projects announced for downtown have never materialized), let's consider a public alternative. $25 million sits in the general fund, and other money is available, if the citizens of Eugene are organized to take back their downtown. The entire district could be programmed for the public benefit, in a uniquely Eugene fashion. If not, that general fund money will likely be spent on projects no one is much interested in -- a monolithic Police headquarters, and a monolithic new city hall. We can do better.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

First, the story

The Register-Guard doesn't always preserve the news stories on its site, and since this story impacts dozens of organizations, and thousands of people, here is the fair use exceprt:

City deals resurrect downtown dreams
By Edward Russo
The Register-Guard
Published: Friday, October 27, 2006

After months of negotiations, the city of Eugene has secured the right to buy 12 Broadway properties, reigniting the chance for redevelopment in the heart of downtown.

The potential sellers control most of the properties on West Broadway between Willamette and Charnelton streets, said Mike Sullivan, Eugene's community development division manager.

They include Eugene landlords Tom Connor and Don Woolley; Lazar Makyadeth, owner of Lazar's Bazar; and Rohn and Jack Roberts, who own the building on the northwest corner of Willamette and Broadway. The owner of the adjacent Scan Design building on Willamette Street also has agreed to sell, Sullivan said.

The city got the right to buy the properties for specific prices within six months to a year in order to assemble a "critical mass" of land in case it wants to restart efforts at redeveloping the area, City Manager Dennis Taylor said.

In April, plans for a $165 million retail, housing and office complex by Connor and Woolley and their development partner, Opus Northwest, fell through because they were unable to acquire neighboring properties.
Since then, city officials and their real estate consultant, John Brown, have been negotiating with the same property owners in hopes of reaching the option agreements.

"The Connor-Woolley-Opus project excited everybody, including the property owners along the streets," Taylor said. "That's why we were willing to work to keep the conversation going about what would it take for the property owners to be willing sellers."

Copies of the option agreements weren't available Thursday, but some of the prices provided by city officials show the properties won't go cheaply.

Prices for some of the smaller Broadway area buildings, for example, ranged from $625,000 to $1.45 million, Sullivan said. Options for the larger buildings ranged from $1.2 million to $3.15 million, he said.

The options give the city's urban renewal agency the ability to buy the properties for specific prices and by certain dates.
The city also could assign the options to another party, which could buy the property for the same price.

With the agreements in hand, the city could seek a developer to acquire and redevelop some or all of the properties, Sullivan said.

The city also could let the agreements lapse without buying the properties.

City officials don't have a developer in mind, Taylor said. He will discuss various ideas with the City Council in the next several weeks before deciding on the next step.

Taylor on Thursday signed the option agreements with Connor and Woolley. Negotiations continue with three other property owners, Sullivan said. "We have every reason to believe those options will be finalized," he said.

Connor and Woolley own most of the property in the two-block stretch of Broadway, including the four-story Centre Court building at Broadway and Willamette and the adjoining excavated pit on Willamette Street.

Woolley on Thursday declined to say whether he and Connor would be interested in putting together a development proposal for the city.

If the purchase prices named by the property owners prove too high for a developer, Sullivan said, the city has incentives that could help make the deal more acceptable, including property tax breaks for housing, a loan program and other assistance.
And the city doesn't have to acquire all of the properties to spur redevelopment, he said.

"Another possibility is for the city to look at buying select properties within the mix of properties that we have signed," Sullivan said.

Eugene is following a strategy employed by Springfield, which wants to redevelop riverfront property in Glenwood.

Springfield has obtained purchase options for 37 acres that officials hope to transform with new businesses and housing. On Oct. 9, city officials picked a Portland-based investment group to lead the redevelopment.

On Oct. 16, the Eugene City Council selected Thomas Kemper and Ronald Skov of Portland to redevelop the nearly half block at West 10th Avenue and Charnelton Street. The developers want to build 106 condominiums on the southwest corner of the block, site of the former Sears store and next to Connor and Woolley's properties along Broadway.

With Connor and Woolley's properties for sale, Taylor said, that raises various possibilities, including the chance that Kemper and Skov might become interested in redeveloping the neighboring property, too.

With the options, "we have a different climate today than we had last week," he said.

Downtown organizations at risk

Here's a list of the businesses, non-profits, and cooperatives at risk, from a new City development initiative that does not involve them:

Starting at Charnelton and Broadway, working towards Willamette

Shaw-Med : locally-owned medical supply store
The Tango Center: non-profit community social dance center
New Zone Collective: alternative art gallery
Eugene Celebration office (Downtown Eugene Management, Inc.)
Saturday Market office
Farmer's Market office
Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts
The Jazz Station
Network Charter School
John Henry'sA Eugene Institution