The future of Crescent Village
by R.L. Stollar, EDN
Suzanne Arlie is not afraid to think big. The president and owner of Arlie & Company, the real estate investment and development company that owns Crescent Village, Arlie has far and vast-reaching plans for her mini-empire that has stood strangely bleak in the middle of Crescent Road. Since opening in 2006, Crescent Village has struck many a Eugene resident as an anomaly: Why is there a huge collective of buildings in the middle of a giant, undeveloped field? Why are people living right above gelato and sushi shops? What exactly is going here?
Arlie & Company opened Crescent Village in 2006. The vision was to create what is known in development circles as a “mixed used urban village.” The concept of the urban village has gained popularity over the last few decades in large cities. Originating with the urban philosopher Jane Jacobs in the 1950’s, the idea of the urban village was to value traditionally shaped neighborhoods and communities in the midst of inner cities plagued by overdevelopment, sprawl, and the depersonalization of the industrial revolution. The urban village is seen as a way to keep familiarity and the feeling of community strong in the midst of skyscrapers and mass transit. It also is a very green concept. With restaurants, grocery stories, and farmers’ markets all within walking distance of housing, less driving and less pollution can occur.
Suzanne Arlie originally planned to open Crescent Village where the PeaceHealth River Bend Hospital now stands. “We owned the property by River Bend and we had plans to build this over there,” Arlie says. “But then we got into discussions with PeaceHealth.” PeaceHealth, it happened, owned the property where Crescent Village now stands. “So we and Peace Health quietly switched our properties. We got a good deal: the River Bend area had higher worth, so we got the Crescent Road property and cash.” And, as Arlie notes, she much preferred the Crescent Road location from the beginning: “It was definitely worth it. We’re closer to town, we have a Eugene address, and we’re right by Costco.”
Arlie was inspired to make an urban village after visiting a Portland version, the Orenco Station. Located in Hillsboro, Oregon, the Orenco Station has won awards for its urban planning. Designed as pedestrian friendly, high density neighborhood, Orenco features single family apartments, town homes, a farmers’ market, retail shops, and a large park. “In a suburban setting it’s urban,” Arlie says. “You can walk out door and be right on the street with neighbors and shops. It’s a very green concept.”
After seeing Orenco, Arlie & Company undertook travels to other urban villages. They went to Vancouver and San Francisco to study this movement. The question was, of course, would an urban village — known for suceeding in large sprawling cities — work in a smaller setting like Eugene. “We felt that there was a market for that,” Arlie explains, “but it was definitely a risk.” She remembers a city councilor, David Kelly, said he’d wear a sign that he was wrong if Crescent Village actually worked out. “We haven’t taken him up on that yet,” Arlie jokes, “though we definitely won that bet.”
But winning hasn’t been an easy road. Eugene didn’t have a category in its zoning laws for an urban village. So they had to create a new category to obtain city council approval. And once they got through all that paperwork, the economy went into a recession. “Crescent Village is not as far along because of the economy slump,” for one thing, Arlie explains. “And then our contractor, Michael Roberts, filed bankruptcy.” Roberts took a large payment from Arlie & Company, paid off other unrelated debts, and then didn’t pay off Arlie’s contractors. “We lost all that money and that pushed us into bankruptcy.”
On Wednesday, June 20, 2010, Suzanne Arlie announced that Arlie & Company was filing for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In an interview with KVAL on that Wednesday, Suzanne explained that, “The company has begun negotiations with its secured creditors to re-structure certain debts. It is our goal to manage this re-organization so that we can emerge quickly as a stronger organization which continues to be a vital member of the Eugene business community.”
And fortunately, it worked. “We came through on April 15 from that,” Suzanne says. “It’s been very tough for two years—none of the small businesses we want to work with had been able to get financing.” But then the tides changed. “After filing for Chapter 11 we have had more businesses than since we began.”
“All of sudden things went from 0 to 100,” Arlie exlaims happily. “Everything was just good timing, like a triple witching hour.” Gesturing outside, she says, “The weather is getting good, we’re paying 100 cents on the dollar paid out of the bankruptcy.” But she makes no understatement on how hard that time was for her, her staff, and the businesses she welcomed to the village. “All of the creditors were local people, and paying them was a big deal. We also had to downsize our staff. It was very scary for sometime. Our whole attention was so focused on getting back on track.”
And back on track they are, more eager than ever to push the green side of the urban village and to expand the village. “We really felt very drawn to all of the movements in green development,” Arlie really wants to emphasize. “We wanted to do a LEED building.” LEED is a worldwide not for profit agency that certifies companies on their leadership and investment in sustainable development. “Our office is a LEED platinum office, the buildings themselves are gold certified, and most of our materials are recycled”—all high honors and achievements. “Not to mention,” Arlie adds, “the mixed use aspect of an urban village makes it green in itself: you don’t need car, you are using less energy to live, materials are low on gas; the heating-cooling system is done through ground water.”
With the green aspect glowing, Arlie & Company are now ready to start expanding. They have a great support staff to help, too. “We’ve always been good at surrounding ourselves with people better than us. When we started, it was my husband and I in a little Cottage Grove office.” (Arlie started with breeding rare Friesian horses and has grown her business from the ground, or horse, up.) “Our very first employee was an accountant.” And they’ve added many more since. “When you’re an entrepreneur you think you’ve got to go it your own, and it was great to find we could surround ourselves with more vision, more brains—employees & consultants, talented architects, planners, marketers.”
The future is bright for Suzanne Arlie and her staff. “We have a yoga studio coming in, a chiropractor, and a yogurt shop. Both the yoga studio and chiropractor have been able to get financing.” The economy is turning around, it seems, at least for Crescent Village. A new set of housing, Future B Homes, are coming. The first house will done at end of July for the Home Builders Event and then four homes are on the horizon. “The first one is sold,” Arlie says gladly. “It will be complete in September. And then all the foundations will be poured and finished by October. They also have plans in the works for College Park to expand Lane Community College.
And there’s more. “We’re one of the finalists for the Veterans Administration Building,” Arlie added. The fact is, all that empty land — those fields we have all scratched our heads over and wondered why they’ve been left empty — it all belongs to Arlie & Company. “We own all 39 acres and have a model and plan for every single acre.”
Part of the vision is a grocery store upfront—a 50,000K sq. ft. grocery store at that. “We had been toying with a Fred Meyer’s and Whole Foods, but now we’re in conversation with a Portland grocery store.” Arlie couldn’t mention what store, but said she’s very excited about the potential.
They’ve even had to turn companies away. But they have a very specific, professional vision that the company is determined to fulfill. “It’s hard turning away things like video lottery in a recession when it would make money,” Arlie notes, “but that would compromise both our vision and wouldn’t protect the long turn value of our property.”
“We’re so excited about the future. We are starting a weekend market,” Arlie smiles happily about. “Ratattouile does all the hot food for Sundance Market—they do organic, vegan, and meat now.” They’ll be supplying food for the market. “We have lots of relationships with farmers and growers and are eager to do something like a farmer’s market on Saturdays.”
And since it’s summer, Crescent Village will once again run their highly successful Movie Under the Stars event. They shut down the streets around the village and put up a giant movie screen. Anyone can come and bring a lawn chair and blanket and watch a classic movie for free. The first showing is Friday, July 1st, at 9 pm. It will be “Stand by Me.” Upcoming showings will include “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Never Ending Story,” “Karate Kid,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Jaws.”
With 39 acres and an economy working in their favor, Arlie & Company seems poised and ready to start expanding and fulfilling their original dream. “Our restaurants are really successful: all have been rated #1 by Eugene Weekly or People’s Choice,” Arlie says. “And we are working on a fine dining Indian restaurant, the first in Eugene. It’s completely different from any other Indian restaurants in Eugene.” They hope to add a water park, more townhouses and single living apartments, family homes close to the 4 J school behind them, and a bank to round out the urban village concept. And once they get their grocery store, they will have succeeded in doing what that city councilor thought impossible: making an urban village a success in a city that in itself prides itself in being urban. But with Suzanne Arlie at helm, those fields will soon be just a dream and the Crescent Village will finally have its mini-empire that Eugene won’t be able to resist.
For more information on Crescent Village, visit http://www.crescent-village.com/. For more information about Arlie & Company, visit http://www.arlie.com/.