Downtown Eugene

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.


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