Eugene/Springfield: Downtown rising
Above: "There are a lot of creative young people living near downtown Springfield, but there's no place to go," says Bart Caridio, the developer behind Plank Town Brewing Co., a brewpub scheduled to open on Main Street this fall.
Below: Developer Steve Master is building several mixed-use projects in downtown Eugene, including First on Broadway, which will house the Bijou Metro cinema and a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, with 16 apartments above.
// Photos by Eric Näslund
Bart Caridio abides by the brewpub theory of urban revitalization. Over a decade ago, the Cottage Grove businessman helped open Sam Bond’s Garage pub in Eugene’s Whiteaker district, and helped transform a languishing, crime-ridden community into one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods. This month, Caridio is opening Plank Town Brewing Co. in downtown Springfield, a neighborhood that, until recently, was known for its drug use, fights and prostitution. “It’s the right spot for business,” says Caridio. Plank Town, he says, “is going to be one of the premier brewpubs in the state.”
Defined by their proximity to the University of Oregon, Eugene and Springfield have struggled to develop their downtown districts into thriving business and social centers. For decades, strip clubs and bars have dominated Springfield’s central core. In Eugene, various downtown redevelopment schemes, most notably the failed pedestrian mall, never evolved into the desired urban catalyst.
Now, despite the recession, both downtowns appear to have turned a corner. In Eugene, more than $100 million is being invested in the central core. The roster of projects that have recently opened or are under construction include: the Broadway Commerce Center, a renovation by Portland’s Beam Development; a new Lane Community College campus; the Inn at the 5th, the city’s first luxury hotel; and a new 255-unit student-housing project.
In Springfield, new development includes the Hatch business incubator run by NEDCO, a neighborhood development corporation; a campus for the public charter school, the Academy of Arts and Academics, to open this fall; and Vino and Vango, a small business that offers wine and painting parties and classes. The former First Christian Church is also being remodeled and will house a year-round farmers market and an industrial central kitchen.
Local developers and business owners credit public officials for catalyzing the urban renaissance in both cities. “You need the public sector to come in and partner. Without that, these projects wouldn’t happen,” says Steve Master, the developer of Park Place, a luxury apartment building that opened in Eugene last month. A low-interest loan from the city and a multiunit tax exemption helped make the project pencil, says Master, who is building another project downtown, the Broadway Lofts.
The spate of development in Eugene “is no accident; it’s a huge investment on the city’s part,” says Denny Braud, a development analyst in the city’s planning department. The city was the sole lender on the Beam project and contributed $8 million in urban-renewal funds to the community college campus.
For his part, Caridio applauds Springfield officials for “getting behind the local economy” and creating a more positive climate on Main Street. The city launched an aggressive and successful three-year campaign to get rid of the problem bars and strip clubs, partnering with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to challenge each establishment’s liquor license. The city also cut the cost of building permits in half, Caridio says.
The simultaneous rise of the Eugene and Springfield downtowns reflects the growing affinity between the two cities, which partnered on a regional-prosperity summit and a regional-food consortium. The expanding EmX bus rapid transit corridor and a planned mixed-use district in Glenwood, located between the two cities, also help solidify the relationship. As Eugene and Springfield strengthen their identities, they also are creating a stronger presence for the entire region.
There are “real opportunities” happening in both cities, says Shane Johnson, COO of Angle, a tech startup in Eugene’s Broadway Commerce Center. “Anytime you get a brewpub rather than a strip club,” says Johnson, “you’re getting ahead.”