Mark Frohnmayer builds a Utopian empire in Eugene

Mark Frohnmayer builds a Utopian empire in Eugene

STORY BY KRISTEN HALL-GEISLER // PHOTOS BY LEAH NASH

 

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From inner peace to outer action: Eugene entrepreneur Mark Frohnmayer teaches yoga at Studio 508.

Like so many others with coding skills in the late 1990s, Mark Frohnmayer started a video-game business. Unlike so many others, his start-up business, Garage Games, was more than a post-college whim — it’s still around, though without him at the helm. In 2007, Frohnmayer and his partners sold the business for quite a bit of cash. “I could’ve not worked for the rest of my days,” says Frohnmayer, now 36. Not that funding his lifestyle would take a fortune. “From a consumption point of view, I don’t demand a lot,” he says.

The next task was to decide what to do with his winnings, as he calls them, from the sale of his company. But while looking for his next project, the Eugene native felt a sense of despair at the mess the world was in. How could one man make a difference when the problems were so huge? He tried to tackle the question by taking a train trip to Washington D.C., to lobby against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “You can see how well I did with that,” he says, laughing.

Frohnmayer, who is tall and lanky with short blond hair and wire-frame glasses, had already purchased a three-bedroom house that he still shares with roommates in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood in 2005 and renovated it to be energy efficient. His philosophy of efficiency extended to his personal transportation. He searched for a fun electric vehicle that could get him around town at a reasonable price without the “I’m gonna die feeling” that so many neighborhood electric vehicles have. He came up empty.

Having degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California at Berkeley — and having been a General Motors scholar to boot — Frohnmayer decided to purchase a kit for a three-wheeled electric car called the BugE, which he built at home with friends. The kit car, which looks a bit like a white composite alien head on wheels, needed refinement to be viable for the mass market. But this, Frohnmayer recognized, was a way to make a dent in his despair.

In the meantime, a friend in real estate had bought a trio of buildings on the corner of Fifth Street and Blair Boulevard in the heart of Whiteaker and invited Frohnmayer to help with their redevelopment. “For a long time, I’d had a vision of a sort of a mixed-use development-style thing,” he says. “This opportunity presented a chance to take this empty carpet warehouse and junky office space and turn it into something cool.”