The city of Eugene is launching a makeover of the west side of the downtown Park Blocks to try to make the spot more inviting to people, especially diners.
Officials hope to have a dining deck installed by the end of the month on the spot that now is fenced and walled off and contains shrubs and trees.
The deck and associated tables and seating will offer a place for people to eat fare sold by food trucks, observe events at the park or just enjoy a quick break outside.
The deck, measuring 20 feet wide by 50 feet long, will add a permanent, inviting feature to the park so the people who see it will say, “I’d like to have lunch there,” said Will Dowdy, the city employee working on the project.
The deck installation is one in a series of initiatives the city is trying out to make the downtown core and surrounding urban parks safer and more welcoming.
Numerous Eugene residents have roundly criticized the downtown ambiance in recent months, saying the center is overwhelmed by hostile, rule-breaking loiterers.
The city initiatives include increased police patrols, greater supervision of downtown and urban parks, expanded social service help, more events at parks and plazas, and even area-wide power washing of sidewalks, alleys and other public spots.
The Park Blocks have been a particular focus, with their history as a trouble spot requiring frequent police response.
The park has been a popular gathering spot for large groups of loiterers, especially underneath the concrete shelter at the edge of the west Park Blocks. The deck will be installed next to the concrete shelter.
Eugene police say the park has been plagued by drug use and sales. It was the scene of an ugly incident in late October when a large and angry crowd screamed obscenities and taunted police officers as the officers struggled to arrest a man on drug charges.
To counter those problems, the police department has ramped up its presence, and the city has hired a full-time host to keep an eye on the area through the summer. The city also has scheduled numerous events through the summer, including tai chi, music and dance performances, and, starting in August, free movie showings.
The initiatives are based or inspired by the “ ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ interventions” a consultant, Project for Public Spaces, recommended to bring more activity to downtown public spaces.
Melissa Achtien, co-owner of the Gilt+Gossamer boutique on Willamette Street near the west Park Blocks, said the investment appears to be paying off.
Achtien said she has seen a “huge improvement” in the park since police began ramping up their presence there following the incident in October.
“It has improved drastically,” she said. “I am not intimidated to go out there anymore. It’s just like a normal park.”
Dowdy said the city will remove one section of the rock wall to improve access to the new deck, but the concrete shelter will remain.
Schematic diagrams show the dining deck will have room for about nine tables with seating.
The cost of the project is estimated at less than $10,000.