There are several things that prompted the last two entries. One is watching our sister city of Eugene deal with trying to revive the core downtown area. Back in the early seventies when the downtown pedestrian mall concept was at its peak Eugene decided they had to have one too. They tore up the streets, got rid of the parking, put in some benches, a few food kiosks and a really ugly fountain and they were off to the races.
The planners made two big mistakes. They forgot or disregarded the fact that for at least six months out of the year it is chilly, foggy, rainy or snowy here. Especially during the peak shopping season around Christmas. The most successful downtown, unenclosed malls are either in the south or in cities that may get cold but don’t get rained on. Second, they green lighted the construction of Valley River Center. A nice enclosed shopping mall with lots of entrances, lots of stores, and plenty of parking. And let's not forget the warm and dry part.
This was followed by a giant sucking sound as the lights in down town Eugene blinked out. They tried, oh they tried to keep it going. Slowly sections of the mall were taken over by kids with too little to do and the down and out with nowhere to go.
Location, location, location was never truer than it is down here. We’re part college town, part lumber town and I doubt you can scrape up just over 200,000 people for the whole area. The next largest population hub is Corvallis/Albany. It’s just over thirty miles from here and we don’t have much of anything that they don’t have at home. The U of O has tried hosting a few rock concerts over the years. But, it’s funny how folks who don’t have a problem with all day tail gate parties with unlimited booze frown on drugged up rockers. Never mind that the cops would rather deal with stoned Dead Heads over boozed up football fans.
The Hult center is a nice little theater complex but it’s hardly a large scale destination site. Outside football, basketball and large scale track meets, there is very little to attract outsiders to the area for entertainment.
Over the years the down town limped along as local developers bought up sections of property. A business or two that had managed to keep going saw its quarters sold and the doors shut. The property bull dozed or shuttered. Most of the ones that managed survive owned their own property. It’s an eclectic mix, but not really the type of shops that high end developers want around.
Starting a couple of years ago the biggest property owners tried to muscle the others out and force a multi block, all at one go concept redevelopment of downtown Eugene. Surprise, surprise, the other kids didn’t want to play nice. The businesses that had stuck it out either didn’t want to sell or wanted prices comparable to the values the big boys were getting. The screams weren’t exactly deafening but they were there. The city council flirted briefly with using eminent domain but that idea fell faster than a cooling soufflé. Seems folks in this neck of woods aren’t any fonder of the idea of forcing the sale of private property to sell it other private parties than folks in other parts of the country are these days.
The high end organic supermarket, Whole Foods, was going to be one of the anchors. In spite of the fact that we have a very nice locally owned, similar chain right here in town called Market of Choice. The big boys discovered that a lot of folks are tired of seeing their tax dollars used to lure outside businesses that compete with our own local shops and stores. Whole Foods has since backed out, partly over who was going to build the needed parking structure.
The tug of war just ticks me off. There is nothing stopping the folks that own large chunks of downtown from developing the property they own except their own ambition and greed with a little encouragement from the minority on the city council. The business owners who have kept going through the bad years see no reason to let their property or businesses go for less than other guys want, and I can’t say that I blame them. And frankly those of us who live in Springfield, Santa Clara, and the suburbs need a damn good reason to anywhere near down town Eugene in the first place. Down to Earth is on 5th street and the Mac store is on 8th street. Those are my two reasons to go anywhere near down town Eugene. There is a thriving Saturday Market during a good part of the year but it’s in the park blocks, not down town.
Short of nuking the local shopping malls this is not going to change. Get in some good high density housing and I believe the rest will take care of itself. Quit trying to copy what other cities have done and find a uniquely Oregon way of solving the problem. Make the downtown the place to live, work and shop and maybe the rest of us will come by to catch a piece of the action.