Downtown Eugene

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The West Broadway Citizens' Advisory Committee Process

A letter to Rob Handy, CPA representative on the committee

The whole process is, of course, framed to create "standard development projects" more than to actually add vitality to West Broadway.

For example, the developers want a guaranteed profit, to produce something ("a nightlife") which is completely speculative. The actual tenants on West Broadway, on the other hand, have created the best nightlife in Eugene, already, and the city hasn't given us a penny -- nothing to even help us break-even, let alone profit.

The positive thing that should be emphasized is efficiency in public expenditure, and a genuine track record in the neighborhood. In that case, the existing tenants have already done a far better job than the developers propose to do in the future -- by several orders of magnitude! Compare their vague predictions and projections with our actual numbers -- which can be observed after 8pm, any day.

Also, the notion that West Broadway is moribund is massively overstated. Compare it, even during the day, with 90% of downtown, and it will be found to have more people.

In any case, since the existing tenants are the most efficient at revitalization, they should be given a chance to buy their own buildings. The primary reason for the appearance of desertion on West Broadway, because of unrented space, is the existence of powerful landowners (the City, in the case of the Sears building, and Conner & Woolley in the rest of the cases) who have little incentive to improve their property. Give West Broadway businesses and non-profits an opportunity to buy their buildings from these owners, and you can be certain that they will be filled to the brim with activity. Small owners are far more likely, and more efficient, at making the incremental green changes people would like to see in any buildings. We want to buy our building, for example, restore the original facade, improve the passive heating and cooling throughout the building, incorporate more community projects, etc. No out-of-town developer could possibly do this efficiently.

I worry about the fact that no one, on the committee, actually is resident on the threatened footprint of West Broadway. People may make suggestions like "the farmer's market building should become a farmer's market again", without understanding that this entire process has been hurting the existing lane county farmer's market -- which is a very fragile, unsupported organization, with storage in my building and important street offices, that the city wants to tear down! That's just one example. If the developers need an advisory committee, then the advisory committee needs one of their own. Perhaps this could be proposed?

Of course I'm very worried by the proposal of "charettes", which have been used as PR cover to destroy neighborhoods in the last two decades or so. I was told by a City Planner, for example, that I should be relocated because "the downtown plan calls for it". As if the community members on that committee would have said "yes, let's destroy community projects in order to build community".

This "destroy the village to save it" mentality is everywhere in Urban Renewal, and modern urban planning -- just an extension of the profit-taking colonization this country is built on. The best parts of cities around the world are destroyed every day by this sort of process.

And, of course, we don't want to be relocated. Actually, it would simply destroy us. And anyone else who is "relocated". It is a human rights violation, a small-scale version of the relocation of native americans from their lands. We've done a very good job of revitalizing our place, and don't want to be destroyed. Thousands have been part of our work, and $1 million in sweat equity has been poured into the place. Any form of good-intentioned relocation, if that was possible, would be very expensive for the city -- of course, if we are just ignored, and kicked out, we will sue, which will also be expensive for them. We've already been put in an impossibly precarious situation just because of the City's "purchase options" -- our leases aren't being renewed!

I believe if money is allowed to enter into the Advisory Committee discussion, the destructive part of the process will be derailed. There is nothing efficient about buying an occupied building, relocating businesses, tearing it all down, and building new, with guaranteed profit, and high rents. If the City waives its hands around and says "oh, let's just do what the people want. Don't worry about the money." -- reply with "we don't want to waste our time. We'd like to come up with a plan that doesn't cost much, and achieves a great deal, so that it has a hope of being accepted by the entire community." Consensus is key -- the small projects (filling the holes, not tearing down buildings, arranging financing to sell to tenants) are quite efficient, and will have no dissent. Anyone who wants more, at the cost of sacrificing such agreement, is simply not being cooperative. The entire City staff can be accused of this, as they keep pushing for maximum destruction, when their record for efficiency is non-existent.


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