Despite a prevailing atmosphere of local pessimism bordering on resistance, Eugene’s Broadway corridor has morphed into the place to be for local entertainment, nightlife and art walking. With Center Court, Woolworth, and L.C.C. Downtown Campus sparking the rebirth of a long dead downtown, the corner of Broadway and Willamette is now the go to spot for many young Eugenians.
30 years in the making, a handful of visionary developers enabled by a city council captained by controversial Mayor Kitty Piercy has transformed a formerly dead downtown into the catalyst for change in the Emerald City. While redevelopment has not been viewed favorably by all downtown merchants and residents, I believe it to be a socially beneficial economic upturn for the entire community.
5 years ago, I, like most Eugenians would have told you that the mayor was crazy. After all, many of Eugene’s downtown retail area was abandoned. Major retailers had left the city core decades earlier. In their place, a handful of small merchants left behind to fight the urban blight as well as a growing population of homeless. Downtown was not a good place to hang out.
Over the years there had been several offers of redevelopment proposed by out of state developers that hadn’t made it off the drafting table. Most master plans involved the purchase and demolition of multiple downtown properties.
Back in the late 1970s the Broadway District had been restricted to car traffic and designated as a walking Mall. That didn’t work out either. And, with the Opening of Gateway, Oakway and other shopping malls, the Broadway and Willamette retail district met the fate of much of downtown America, and was largely abandoned by the retail purchasing public, and left to die.
While Eugene’s Broadway corridor was not a tenderloin district, it was a bit gritty and had a bad reputation, despite housing some of the finest music venues, small acting troupes and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. Due to a pushy unhoused street population and drug pushers, families and out of town visitors opted to pass on what the area had to offer. You just didn’t go down there. For many Eugenians, Portland was the next stop on the weekend party planner.
The great recession of 2008 killed what vibrancy was left in the city's core. There had been years of discussion and several hundred thousand dollars spent by the city on feasibility studies with no progress noted. Another 3 years would pass before the Center Court Building project with the help of city matching development funds and property tax deferral would break ground; setting a precedent for redevelopment in downtown Eugene.
In 2014 you will find a vibrant Broadway, Pearl and Willamette retail District offering much to do.
Vacancy is up, offering art galleries, specialty shops, casual and fine dining, live and movie theater, Jazz and Rock and Roll. A few blocks to the north you’ll find 5th street market, and the newest 4 star accommodations in Western Oregon.
Spring and Summer nights are jumping. You will find a vibrant street scene attended by thousands as Voodoo donuts meets Christian fundamentalists and political debate across the street at Ken Kesey Square.
Eugene’s top story for 2013 is the redevelopment of the city's inner corp. The rebirth of downtown has created hundreds of new jobs and preserved hundreds more while adding quality of life to the region. And, will generate sales and service tax revenue for decades to come.