Eugene Downtown Revitalization Efforts
Recently, Eugene Daily News published a story about Springfield seeking to further develop, enhance, and grow their downtown area in an effort to attract new businesses to the area and provide a better living for the residents of the city.
With a detailed plan already in place, Springfield has seen early success as they have launched several phases of downtown growth, receiving positive feedback from the local community. The most recent addition was that of Sprout, a food hub that will house the Springfield Farmer’s Market year round while offering a full-service kitchen for those seeking a place to rent.
While a lot of talk has been made of Springfield’s efforts to revitalize their downtown area, many are beginning to wonder what the city of Eugene has in store for its own revitalization, if there is anything planned at all.
It is no secret that Eugene has the reputation of being anti-business and anti-development. With high property taxes in the downtown sector combined with tough zoning laws and government control over numerous buildings, there have been more than a few businesses that have passed up the chance at incorporating themselves in Eugene despite their interest in the local area.
And yet, with all the contention about Eugene not being business friendly, there are always two sides of the coin.
Nan Laurence, a Senior Planner that works for the City of Eugene, pointed out more than a few businesses that have seen success in the Eugene and downtown area.
“I can’t speak to the reputation of Eugene as anti-development,” explained Laurence. “But I can point to the many new businesses opening downtown; including coffee shops, the Bijou theatre, software developers and other creative industries, and other commercial spaces, large and small.”
In fact, Laurence also makes sure to reference the ongoing goals of downtown Eugene development to express the city’s interest in building a downtown area that is thriving and successful.
“Revitalizing downtown is a long held community goal. I can’t imaging that there will ever be a moment when we say ‘All done!’,” said Laurence. “We are working on different areas of downtown and building towards strengthening downtown as the cultural, economic and governmental center of the city and region, and a place to live, work, shop and play.”
The push to revitalize downtown Eugene began at the turn of the century and has witnessed several developments since then.
“Our recent efforts started in 2000 with the approval of the Downtown Vision, and later with the adoption of the Downtown Plan in 2004,” explained Laurence. “The Plan reinforced the idea of Great Streets as a way to connect, characterize and concentrate activity downtown.”
Since the first stages of downtown redevelopment, the City of Eugene has taken steps to ensure they are following all city regulations.
“Shortly after The Plan was adopted, we started a code amendment process which led to code amendment in 2008 and 2009 in an effort to make the Land Use Code more closely aligned with our vision for downtown as a vibrant, distinctive city center.”
The first place of revitalization in 2008, the year development really began to flourish, took place right in the heart of the city.
“In 2008 we focused our efforts on the intersection of Broadway and Willamette,” explained Laurence. “(We also) began the renovation of what is now the Broadway Commerce Center.”
Currently, one of the main driving forces behind what Eugene’s downtown may become is Envision Eugene, a government sponsored and driven initiative that seeks community and local government collaboration. As is regulated by the State of Oregon, each community in Oregon has their potential expansion limited by what is known as an urban growth boundary. This boundary limits how much the city can expand (in terms of physical mass) while protecting forests and farms. Envision Eugene is currently faced with the task of figuring out how to make room for an increase of up to 34,000 residents by 2032.
“More recently we are working are working to implement Envision Eugene,” said Laurence about the city’s development program. “(It) supports an economically strong downtown with higher density and a mix of uses. We are working on the Capstone student housing project, finishing the LCC project, and beginning the work on Northwest Community Credit Union, adjacent to the Federal Courthouse.”
The main premise behind Envision Eugene is the idea of compact development. This means utilizing all of the resources within an already incorporated area in order to use land more efficiently. So, while there are new structures being developed in downtown Eugene, the city has adopted a policy that will favor the use of existing structures rather than the development of entirely new areas.
Though parking fees have been increased, Laurence said that the increase was not due to further downtown development. It is currently unclear as to how all expansion will be funded.
It seems as though there will always be a debate between those people who believe Eugene is anti-business and those who believe Eugene supports and encourages the growth of businesses. In terms of revitalizing and further developing the downtown area of Eugene, however, the city and its residents have already begun a long process that will seek to cultivate ideas from all perspectives in order to ensure Eugene develops into a city that everybody can remain proud to be apart of.