City Club of Eugene: Update on Downtown Planning
Program date: Jan. 27, 2023
Air date: Jan. 30, 2023
From The City Club of Eugene:
Less than 20 years ago, two large, rubble-floored pits within two blocks of each other in Eugene’s city center signaled stalled dreams of downtown development. The distinctive arched windows of the Center Court building were boarded up and the inside of the building had been destroyed by a leaking roof. What should have been the civic, cultural, and commercial heart of our city was showing signs of defeat by changing times and design experiments that looked promising—but didn’t deliver.
By about 2015, the City had worked with developers, public and private, to secure more than $300 million in new development. EWEB redevelopment work was continuing, and construction of new housing, shops, restaurants, and a hotel, in the core of downtown was underway. The transportation infrastructure to create a pedestrian crossing on 8th to the river was in place.
In 2020, the pandemic changed a lot about downtown. Fewer people were out and about downtown, and the toll on downtown shops and eateries was significant. But the planning and development work did not stop--creating a strong healthy core is, after all, a long-term effort. Progress is now evident in tangible and intangible forms, such as the new Farmer's Market Pavilion and the recent turnout for First Friday Art walk. But many challenges remain, including safety, social services, the need for more diversity and inclusion, and the cost and complications of physical redevelopment.
How are we doing as a city to create a downtown that reflects our pride of place and aspirations? In this program, people who have been following downtown development closely will describe why our downtown space is important, offer a short history of ups and downs, an overview of current plans, and a description of a few lingering concerns that still need to be resolved.
Nan Laurence is a retired Senior Planner for the City of Eugene. Between 1997and 2017, her work focused on downtown planning and development. She was the primary author of the Downtown Vision, the Courthouse District Concept Plan, the Eugene Downtown Plan, and the criteria for redevelopment of the EWEB riverfront. She served as a leader in the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, facilitating gatherings across the state to discuss how a city’s downtown core reflects the community's values, culture, and aspirations. She earned master’s degrees in regional planning from Cornell University and in architecture from the University of Virginia.
Eric Brown has been the City of Eugene’s Downtown Manager for almost 4 years. He spent three years before in the Planning Division, where he led neighborhood planning and communications efforts. Throughout his career, Eric has focused on sustainable urban development and the public processes that support decision making. He earned a BA in sustainable development from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and a master’s degree in urban studies from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
About the City Club of Eugene:
The mission of the City Club of Eugene is to build community vision through open inquiry. The Club explores a wide range of significant local, state, and national issues and helps to formulate new approaches and solutions to problems. Membership is open to all, and Club members have a direct influence on public policy by discussing issues of concern with elected officials and other policy makers. The City Club’s mailing address is PO Box 12084, Eugene, OR 97440, and its website is cityclubofeugene.org.