A rendering of the $11 million hotel project at the Fifth Street Public Market. It's one of several downtown projects under way in Eugene. // ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE ULUM GROUP
City efforts to reduce barriers to construction along with some substantial loans to downtown projects have helped boost Eugene’s economy.
“The prices are right,” says city manager Jon Ruiz. “Construction costs are down 20% or more compared to a few years ago.” The city is trying to also streamline the permitting process. “[Obtaining permits is] taking three hours rather than three or four weeks,” Ruiz says. The city will also do same-day inspections or Saturday inspections.
One major project under way is a 50,000-square-foot upscale hotel at the Fifth Street Public Market. The 69-room, $11 million project is being developed by market owner Brian Obie and has received $600,000 in loans from the city. Planning on the project began several years ago and was delayed because private investors and banks pulled back lending during the recession, but “there are signs of improvement in Eugene’s economy,” Obie says. Eugene’s August unemployment rate was 10.7%, down from 12.1% in 2009. The occupancy rate of the Fifth Street Public Market was around 93% through the recession, but when the hotel is completed next summer the vacant retail spots are expected to fill again.
“I think Eugene has a huge amount of potential,” says Brad Malsin, president of Portland-based Beam Development. His company purchased two buildings in downtown Eugene: the Center Court and Washburne buildings, which total 100,000 square feet. He also has bought an empty lot near the Center Court building where he plans to construct a new building that will be between 60,000 and 100,000 square feet. All three buildings will contain office and retail space and are expected to be completed within 15 months. The city helped Beam acquire one of the buildings with almost $10 million in loans. The city also helped fund Lane Community College’s downtown campus with $8 million in loans.
It’s all part of Eugene’s development strategy, which focuses on building “the social and physical infrastructure,” Ruiz says. The city is trying to anticipate economic changes and adjust to meet the needs of the community.
“We’re excited about what is going on,” he says.