May 22, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Businesses say market-rate housing will help downtown thrive

10 min read
With City Hall moving to the riverfront, Eugene business leaders called for 2,600 units of market-rate housing to support a safe and thriving downtown.

Public comment May 15 recommended using urban renewal funds to help downtown thrive.

[00:00:06] Brittany Quick-Warner: My name is Brittany Quick-Warner and I’m honored to be here to represent the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and the 1,200 businesses that we represent in the community.

[00:00:14] The downtown corridor is our heartbeat in Eugene. And we believe if downtown thrives, it supports the entire community thriving as well. If it fails to thrive, all the districts suffer as well.

[00:00:26] Right now, our downtown is, honestly, at its lowest point in decades. We do not believe it’s thriving. The vacancy rates, the crime, the general sentiment around downtown from stakeholders and community members are pretty alarming.

[00:00:40] We believe you need to prioritize investing quickly and proactively, reducing barriers to development and folks on market-rate housing. These investments need to be made as quickly as they possibly can so we can actually see the return that the entire community wants to see.

[00:00:54] Specifically we really need to see some tangible safety improvements as quickly as possible. This is about giving the tenants and the businesses downtown and frankly the developers that we’re trying to attract the confidence that they need to actually come and invest those dollars that we want to build up by investing ourselves in this urban renewal funding.

[00:01:12] We believe market rate is important. So based on analysis of the housing mix and neighborhoods across Eugene, downtown currently has an unbalanced mix of affordable and market-rate housing. We believe that over the last several decades there’s been a lot of affordable housing built in the downtown area.

[00:01:27] Not a bad thing but we haven’t seen the same level of market-rate housing built downtown as well. And we really think that in order for the downtown economy to rebound the way it does need to, we have to have a balance of the types of housing that we need that bring the income levels that we need to support these downtown retailers.

[00:01:44] So, it does not mean slowing down on affordable housing. I want to make that clear. We highly and strongly believe that that’s a needed investment in our community. But for downtown and with this urban renewal plan, we believe market-rate housing is a great place for the city to focus.

[00:02:00] Ethan Clevenger: My name is Ethan Clevenger. I am here as a downtown business owner. Since I opened three years ago, I am frequently met by customers who ask me eagerly how long I’ve been there and say they’ve never noticed me. And that’s generally followed up with, ‘And I don’t come downtown much anymore,’ with an implied ‘Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.’

[00:02:17] We all know what that means. This is really disheartening as a downtown business owner because I do wish to establish a customer base of Eugene natives and not just folks from out of town who perhaps didn’t know any better than to come downtown.

[00:02:30] The economic benefit of a dense, livable, and active downtown is well documented across many, many communities. But as offices have emptied downtown, those economics become less sustainable and it becomes more important than ever that we invest in the downtown housing goals that have been echoed both formally and informally by this body over the last several years.

[00:02:53] So with that in mind, I hope to see urban renewal funds quickly and decisively directed into spurring development of downtown housing.

[00:03:00] And in that spirit, I hope to see the city intentionally and strategically engage developers of all kinds to identify what their roadblocks are to developing in downtown Eugene, and, to find ways that these funds can help overcome those roadblocks further by strategically connecting projects to existing blight within downtown.

[00:03:20] Vickie Cussins: Hello, my name’s Vickie Cussins and I’m the facility manager for Summit Bank. During the last year, the bank has experienced multiple levels of vandalism, including recent breakage of windows and breaking into a tenant space where the perpetrator spent at least one night over a weekend and police removal of the person was required.

[00:03:41] The bank has spent over $20,000 in repairs. Summit Bank is very proactive in taking care of its employees and our building.

[00:03:50] In addition to the vandalism repairs, we have invested a significant sum by adding LED lighting to the exterior and renovating multiple suites of the interior, including most recently, a $2 million gut and rebuild of our basement to create a wonderful meeting, learning and collaboration space.

[00:04:09] We are interested and committed to downtown Eugene, obviously, with our investment. Ultimately, what we as the largest remaining downtown employer would like to see is a vibrant downtown core with residential and business occupancy. We ask that the council support the urban renewal, specifically, the introduction of market-rate housing to stimulate economic growth and revitalization by attracting new businesses and residents.

[00:04:41] With the current state of many buildings in the core being empty or dwindling, and the number of unhoused people increasing, our colleagues don’t feel safe to leave the building. Please help us by supporting the urban renewal, specifically through market-rate housing and increasing safety initiatives.

[00:04:58] Sherry Shaefers: My name is Sherry Schaefers. I’m here speaking as a downtown business owner and building owner. More housing is something everyone agrees on and downtown will benefit from this. Don’t forget about market-rate options. Public and private investment will be an important component to success. Please encourage review of the city’s development process, the limited incentives that are available, and our overall attitude towards development. This opportunity couldn’t come at a more critical time for our downtown.

[00:05:29] City of Eugene: Next we will hear from Katie Hall.

[00:05:31] Katie Hall: Downtown Eugene is crucial to the livelihood of Eugene. Currently, downtown is not thriving, and while there have been substantial investments, they seem to be outweighed by the behavioral issues that make people feel unsafe, uninterested and avoidant of the heart of our city.

[00:05:47] As a regular visitor and worker to downtown as well as a principal at a downtown firm, I understand the role downtown has in attracting and maintaining key talent. We know we need improvements to safety. We know we need housing and we know we need a tool to develop and implement these key items in our downtown.

[00:06:05] We have employees that are afraid to walk to and from work. It is an issue, and we have to look for other ways to be able to make sure that they can get there. We need investments in our safety, to make sure that we can provide safe environments for our employees.

[00:06:21] And I’ll add to Brittany’s (Quick-Warner) testimony and support investing quickly and efficiently, support market-rate development, and invest in safety.

[00:06:28] Kim Arscott: I am Kim Arscott. We need to be proactive and identify and create development opportunities to achieve our vision for downtown as soon as possible. Our downtown partners are desperate for safety and improvements in our core.

[00:06:43] The key areas of concern are dim vandalized alleys which are dirty, and sidewalks, and there’s no children downtown anymore. My wish is to create zoning changes for housing in such buildings as the Wells Fargo building, the Cascade Title building and to build and approve housing and condos to support people that need it. This will bring people back downtown and support our local businesses.

[00:07:07] Stephanie Bell: Hi, I’m Stephanie Bell. I’m here as a professional working in downtown Eugene in support of adopting the amended urban renewal plan. In this day and age, a vibrant downtown is a necessity and not a luxury anymore. Downtown is the heart of our community and is essential for Eugene’s continued growth and success.

[00:07:26] Council can help support downtown through the use of urban renewal funds by diversifying the housing options in downtown to include more market-rate housing and investing in projects that increase safety for the residents, commuters, and the visitors that come to downtown daily.

[00:07:42] Pete Knox: My name’s Pete Knox. Some of you who have known me for a while, probably for the last 10 years, I always used to say a phrase, ‘I want to see more people living, working, and playing downtown.’

[00:07:55] Before the pandemic, we had a very vibrant ‘work’ part of that equation. But living and playing have been the struggle, and what we need is more housing downtown. And we need more market-rate housing and one, and the big reason is, is that, that those the people who can afford to live in market-rate housing are the people who will be able to spend the money in the businesses that actually make a neighborhood, especially a dense neighborhood, be a good place to live and stay.

[00:08:30] Megan O’Connor: My name’s Megan O’Connor. I’m a business owner in the Eugene downtown core area as well. I’d just like to reiterate what’s been said by everyone else. Right now, Downtown Eugene is not a healthy neighborhood.

[00:08:43] Healthy communities are built with healthy neighborhoods. Healthy neighborhoods look after each other, look after each other’s kids, families, schools, and places to endeavor that they live and work. We can create a healthy neighborhood back in the Eugene Downtown area. I’ve been a citizen of Eugene since 1959, and at one time that was the way it was. There were schools, there were kids, there were playgrounds, there were parks, and it would be wonderful.

[00:09:13] Josh Burstein: I’m Josh Burstein. I work downtown. I am human resources manager at a public agency downtown of 340 employees. I’m concerned about the present and future of Downtown Eugene.

[00:09:24] This area is hurting, as you’ve heard. We’re looking. We need more commercial tenants outside of a 10-to-5 type business, places that people can go to after work or come into downtown after business hours as well. There are a lot of tools at your disposal as a city council. One of the most important is urban renewal through the downtown urban renewal district, and I think it’s in some ways very important, especially with City Hall potentially moving, to keep the downtown core of the city center strong. And this is one tool to do that.

[00:09:51] Rob Bennett: My name’s Rob Bennett and I’d like to talk about a study that Downtown Eugene Inc. recently commissioned to look deeper into the housing mix in downtown and give some concrete data on which to make decisions.

[00:10:07] What we found is that downtown is currently carrying 2.4 times the amount of affordable housing as other neighborhoods in Eugene. It’s in my opinion, inequitable, actually, for businesses and residents to not have a healthy mix of housing and an even mix of housing in all neighborhoods.

[00:10:28] To achieve the same balance of market-rate housing to affordable housing in downtown, we would need to build over 2,600 market-rate units, just to give you an idea of numbers. So downtown clearly needs a lot of market-rate units. And now we have a goal.

[00:10:45] The urban renewal district within downtown is really the worst performing and arguably the least safe area, which is why we have the district in the first place. The way to solve this problem, in my opinion, is to create vibrant street-level activity. And the way you create vibrant street level activity is that you attract street-level businesses, retail, restaurant service, they’re interesting. It attracts people from all over Eugene to come downtown, which isn’t happening now.

[00:11:16] But you can’t get those businesses to come downtown unless you have a lot of people living very close by. And so the way to do that is obviously to build a lot of housing, and in my opinion, market-rate housing to have enough money really close by to support those businesses.

[00:11:34] If we don’t correct the current and equitable housing mix, I think we’ll be sitting here 20 years from now looking at the same thing we’re looking at right now. I urge you to help support whatever it takes to build 2,600 units of market-rate housing as fast as possible in the downtown core.

[00:11:51] Katie Wilgus: My name’s Katie Wilgus. I’m the executive director of Downtown Eugene, Inc.

[00:11:56] A thriving downtown needs clean and safe streets. It needs employers, retailers, and services. It needs homes, and it needs people to support all of those things. Our downtown is not thriving. If we aren’t thriving, neither is the rest of the city. If people are what we need to support downtown, we must build a diverse and robust infrastructure to attract them.

[00:12:20] Downtown Eugene has the overall lowest housing stock per capita of any other peer downtown in Oregon, by a significant margin. Market-rate housing will bring residents who have the financial resources to attract and sustain street level retailers. Everyone reaps the benefits of a neighborhood with adequate services in retail.

[00:12:43] Councilors, we’ve all weathered the unthinkable shift over the last couple of years, but the businesses and property owners located within our downtown urban renewal district have been hit hardest, and that area remains the most underperforming.

[00:12:58] Office space isn’t being utilized. Retailers are struggling. Transit ridership is down and our streets are empty. Our downtown is currently imbalanced with the affordable housing ratio far higher than the rest of the city.

[00:13:11] There is no question that affordable housing is important, but if we don’t place immediate focus on correcting the imbalance and growing the market-rate housing supply significantly, we will continue to see a decline in our downtown core.

[00:13:25] Making the choice to invest in downtown housing is making a choice to invest in the environment. Not only does vertical housing consume a smaller footprint, it consumes less energy. It also puts residents in close proximity to the places they access every day, alleviating a high dependence on vehicles.

[00:13:45] Not making a large investment in market-rate housing is keeping us at status quo and status quo hasn’t been working.

[00:13:52] John Q: Business and property owners ask the city to support market-rate housing downtown as quickly as possible.

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