Mark Frohnmayer builds a Utopian empire in Eugene

| Print |  Email
Articles - December 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
1210_Eugene04
1210_Eugene05
1210_Eugene06
Pizza Research Institute, with its vegan and vegetarian pizzas, helped Frohnmayer's renovation project gain acceptance in Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood.
From the need to fill this new space and a dream to make a difference was born Arcimoto, the electric car company that Frohnmayer started in October 2007 with two full-time employees. The company’s first electric vehicle, dubbed Version 1, is an adorable little open-topped delivery car in sunshine yellow. Not terribly practical in the Oregon winter (or spring or fall), but an attention-getter.

While being the son of Dave Frohnmayer, former University of Oregon president, has many advantages, it can be a disadvantage in an artsy, anarchist neighborhood like Whiteaker. Dave Frohnmayer acknowledges that his political baggage as a Republican candidate for governor in 1990 followed his son to some degree. Residents of Whiteaker were concerned that “a Frohnmayer” was coming in to raze buildings and gentrify their neighborhood, pushing out longtime residents. “But Mark is not ostentatious,” his father says, “and I admire him for that. He does his part by living it.”

Mark Frohnmayer took the concerns of his neighbors seriously and tried to solve problems, not create them. “I talked to lots of people about ideas and elements to bring in,” he says, especially around Whiteaker’s aesthetics and cultural values. He brought longtime Eugene fixture Pizza Research Institute (PRI), which had been serving creative vegetarian and vegan pizzas in town for two decades. (Frohnmayer himself is a vegetarian.) They moved a cleaned-out shipping container into the space to serve as a kitchen and invited local groups to hold fundraisers and informational events in the restaurant. PRI is also a stop on Eugene’s alternative Last Friday art walk.

“Mark is one of a handful of youngish entrepreneurs improving the neighborhood,” says PRI owner Will Boise. He was concerned that PRI might not be able to draw customers from outside the Whiteaker neighborhood, but that hasn’t been a problem in the year since the business moved. “Mark’s vision is to have this space be a model of urban revitalization,” Boise says, “and he’s been willing to go out on a limb with this project. It took a serious fiscal investment on his part.”

The restaurant shares a back patio with the “crack house,” as Frohnmayer calls it. Sliding glass doors lead from the PRI patio to what is now a cheery little house that Frohnmayer and his former redevelopment partner emptied and scrubbed. Frohnmayer then renovated it to serve as a wellness center and yoga studio where he and another instructor teach several yoga classes each week.

The final piece of the Blair Boulevard puzzle, where Frohnmayer is now the sole redeveloper, is the Arcimoto facility, where the electric-car prototypes are built in their entirety and the full-time staff has grown to eight. The front office houses desks for design, marketing and accounting staff; the back room is where the vehicles come to life. One wall of the glassed-in conference room serves as a showcase for potential Arcimoto vehicle designs.

It may seem counterintuitive to some to build a vehicle manufacturing business in a place like Eugene, but Frohnmayer would disagree. “It’s a national hub of motor-coach manufacturing,” he says. “We have a large potential workforce that’s already largely trained.” Three current Arcimoto employees bring their expertise from three wrecked RV companies from the area — Monaco, Country Coach and Marathon — to the electric-vehicle realm, and Frohnmayer would like to hire more experienced but displaced RV workers to build EVs when the cars are in regular production. (The first very small fleet of cars will be ready by the end of this year.) “If you have people in your back yard who are equipped to deal with tomorrow’s problems,” Frohnmayer says, “we shouldn’t outsource that expertise and that labor around the world.”

 



 

More Articles

Up on the Roof

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

In 2010 Vanessa Keitges and several investors purchased Portland-based Columbia Green Technologies, a green-roof company. The 13-person firm has a 200% annual growth rate, exports 30% of its product to Canada and received its first infusion of venture capital in 2014 from Yaletown Venture Partners. CEO Keitges, 40, a Southern Oregon native who serves on President Obama’s Export Council, talks about market innovation, scaling small business and why Oregon is falling behind in green-roof construction. 


Read more...

House of Clarity

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Holding a Power Lunch at Veritable Quandary in downtown Portland.


Read more...

Storyteller in Chief: Power Player

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA WESTON

In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.


Read more...

Downtime with Debra Ringold

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University


Read more...

Department of Self-Promotion

Linda Baker
Tuesday, August 04, 2015

061715-awards1Oregon Business wins journalism awards.


Read more...

Aim High

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

We get the education we deserve.


Read more...

Loose Talk

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

When gossip crosses the line.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS