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Sunday, July 15, 2007

High-rise condo-mania heads south

It's deja vu all over again. "Mixed use" downtown, with condos, apartments, and a hotel. The city awarded part of the deal to Beam, but most of it to another group. The negotiations between them are a mess. The city will have to subsidize the project heavily, and build parking. Existing businesses and nonprofit groups will be moved out of their current digs, which will be razed for condo bunkers. They won't be able to afford the rent in the retail space in the new development. The lead developer's predicting a grocery and a movie theater, but nobody's signed up for those yet.

And nobody has any idea how much the whole thing is going to cost.

Sound familiar? Introducing the new Linchpin City, baby -- it's Eugene.

Comments (11)

Oh, this one cracks me up. My family moved from Portland to Eugene in 1968. This was just in time to watch Eugene utilize, you guessed it urban renewal. The city demolished their downtown core and turned it into a car-free pedestian mall.

I have no idea how many millions of tax dollars it cost, but the project was an utter and complete failure. The pedestrian mall turned into a ghost town. It killed the downtown core. Literally.

For a time in the 70's, when I was working at Chrystalship records (HI! Chrystalship time!) on the pedestrian mall, it and a hi-fi store, and Brownie's karmel corn were the only thriving businesses.

Later, all the new commercial developers passed up downtown Eugene and built complexes out near Valley River Center and the elsewhere. I always wondered why they didn't build in the downtown core.

Not all downtown pedestrian conversions fail. Boulder Colorado's is just delightful.

"Pedestrian"? Quite humorous. It's the condos, stupid.

For a time in the 70's, when I was working at Chrystalship records (HI! Chrystalship time!) on the pedestrian mall, it and a hi-fi store, and Brownie's karmel corn were the only thriving businesses.

Oh...foo. I moved to Eugene from NYC in 1972, and the Mall was wonderful. There was a kid's toy store where I bought my daughter a giant turtle she sat on to watch TV; bought my work boots at the work boot place whose name I can't remember; bought books and magazines at the bookstore; cheap furniture at the IKEA-like store...and, of course, no doubt bought a few records from you at Chrystalship. And we'd bike there...or drive in and park for free with the tokens we got from merchants. Monkey Wards closed --or was that a Sears?-- and the Bon Marche seemed to be doing OK by the time we left for the big city Portland in 1975.

The toy store was a couple blocks outside of the pedestrian mall. So was the bookstore.

The cheap furniture store I think you were referring to was "Brenner's Furniture", which was a few blocks from the pedestrian mall.

The Bon Marche had its own parking lot and fronted a regular street. Both Monkey Wards and Sears abandoned downtown Eugene for the Valley River Mall.

I also nearly always rode my bike downtown- I wasn't old enough to get a license, and anyway, you could get anywhere in Eugene by bike in about 20 minutes.

The list of failed projects in downtown Eugene is long, starting with the initial urban renewal project in 1968, which resulted in the demolition of many historic buildings.

The Hilton Hotel/Convention was supposed to "save downtown", if I remember correctly. It didn't.

I heard that the downtown area trees were basically "clearcut", what a waste.

Symantec located downtown for a while, but as soon as their tax abatement expired, they took the midnight train outta-town.

And now on the table is a proposal to De-mall and condo-ize downtown. Why not, what the heck, right?

I believe Eugene's original sins were (1)to allow the construction of the Valley River Mall, and (2) to prohibit commercial construction anywhere but their downtown core.

Imagine what downtown Eugene would be like today with a vibrant, healthy commercial core downtown.

The toy store was a couple blocks outside of the pedestrian mall. So was the bookstore.

It may have been, well, a few years ago, but both the toy store and bookstore were indeed part of the downtown mall. So was the Red Wing --see, it all comes back-- work boot store. Valley River Center was already built when I arrived in 1972, and there were stores and other commercial buildings all over, including a Bi-Mart, Waremart, and Albertson's within walking distance of the married student housing complex. The downtown mall had plenty of parking, including a parking structure. The downtown mall also had the first gourmet coffee shop, a little local oufit.

I appreciate that things don't stay the same, but the downtown mall had character, while Valley River Center looked like every other mall in America. Still does, I'd imagine.

I stay one night at the Valley River Inn every summer. The shopping mall out there hasn't changed a bit, other than the Meier & Frank name disappearing, in the last 11 years.

This year, ick -- Red Lion bought out the hotel. Rates went up right away, but not much else has changed so far.

Pedestrian mall or no, it wouldn't have mattered. Eugene is emblematic of many similar-sized cities across the country who suffered from a lack of foresight several decades ago. Downtown buildings used to built to last, in design and durability. But walk around Eugene and you see the REAL concrete bunkers were the office buildings of the 60s and 70s. Everything feels piecemeal and dated. Valley River Center didn't help a damn thing either.

I lived right next to the proposed location while attending U of O. I can tell you, that end of downtown absolutely needs an 'anchor' as a shot in the arm. It's such an abrupt transition to sleepy neighborhood... and the site encompasses a crappy parking lot anyway.

I don't think the city should give up the farm or buy into that cinema nonsense, but damn, Eugene has needed redevelopment in the downtown core for 20 years. It was inevitable anyway with rising property values.

I grew up in the Eugene area. As architects Otto Potica, Dee Unthank and Seder (who all taught at UofO Arch) predicted and strongly protested against the mall, the mall would be a failure and it was. Very few mid and small American cities have survived the 60's/70's mall mania. There are many social/common sense reasons that malling caused eventual failures.

There is something to be said for having some movement of autos/busses on our streets. It brings more 24 hr life, access, delivery services, patrons, security, vibrance, etc. to a town. Otto testified ardently and wrote several opinion pieces with good arguments of why Eugene's mall would fail. The mayor and council didn't listen. Sound familar? I even worked at a business on the outside of the mall; we were sucessful like several others, but as we witnessed the death of Willamette St. even some of the businesses outside were hurt proving that synergy is important.

Portland should be aware of how transit malls (which the present mall has demonstrated) can slowly eat away the life of a city. Will the very limited public access along the present rebuilding of the mall be enough public access for a vibrant city? With so many of downtown Portland streets given to busses, lightrail, trolleys, can the downtown survive?

Urban Renewal is the municipal credit card abuse system which city council's love to abuse.
Wilsonville just had to increase one of their UR debt limits by $33 million, oh o wait, there's a piece of property on sale that we really want,,, make that a $39 million increase. But we promise that's that's it till the whole thing is paid off. Around 50 years from now.
By the way, we're broke and we still need to pass a new operating levy for basic services.
No connection of course to the $4 million per year their general fund property taxes must pay towards the Urban Rrenewal debt.
And, I guess future councils won't have any "sales" they want money for?

Portland now diverts $75 million/year from General Fund property taxes to pay off their Urban Renewal credit card debt.

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