Keeping City Hall downtown is the right call

Keeping City Hall downtown is the right call

By Sarah Bennett
For The Register Guard
December 23, 2016

We are Downtown Eugene Inc., a nonprofit organization composed of property owners in the downtown development district whose mission is to create and support a vibrant, safe downtown where all residents and visitors have inviting options for living, shopping, working and recreating.

In existence since 1988, and weathering a variety of economic conditions, we always have had the same clear goals of making our downtown a better place for all of us.

The organization is self-funded. We tax ourselves in order to pay for the services we provide. We are not a part of the city of Eugene, but we work closely with the city, the Eugene Police Department, downtown merchants and other parties who share our goals and vision.

We believe that a successful downtown speaks for our city. It tells who we are. It demonstrates our priorities and our vision for the kind of city we want to be. As DEI, we have cared about and been involved in downtown issues for long enough to know that in spite of the good things we all see happening, our downtown is still coming from behind and requires all the help it can get from both public and private investment in order to achieve long-term stability.

This is why we strongly support the Eugene City Council’s recent decision to purchase the butterfly lot for the new City Hall.

DEI has always wanted to do more than it can afford to do, so we have prioritized over the years, focusing almost exclusively on public safety, because that has been the obvious primary task. We pay for and provide the Guide services that have done so much to provide quick solutions to social problems as they arise, before they escalate into something much more difficult to manage.

Among other projects, we led the effort to provide the festive, permanent, decorative lights you now see in the core area, with valuable support from downtown business owners and the city.

For a number of reasons, we believe it is critical that our City Hall be located in the central core of our city. Fundamentally, we believe it is important to respect our city’s history. It is traditional that essential city services are located on prominent core sites at the very heart of the city. We value those traditions and respect that it helps us retain our identity as a special place to live and work. Clustering all city services together in close proximity is good for the community and an efficient way to function. Locating them where they can also support local, small businesses gives the best chance for those businesses to succeed.

On the other hand, there are substantial negative effects of moving city employees out of the core to a location that is not easily walkable for quick access to restaurants, entertainment and other professional offices. The city of Eugene is the largest employer in the downtown core.

Moving those employees to the EWEB site would have put every single downtown retailer and restaurant at risk of significant decline in revenue. Before work, after work, on breaks and at lunch, those employees are on the sidewalks every day, not only with their purchasing power, but with their eyes and ears on the street, so that they are more connected with the community and the citizens they serve.

As property owners, many of us have practical experience improving and renovating older buildings. We have learned tough lessons about the unanticipated expenses that more often than not, cause a remodeled building to cost substantially more than originally projected and in some cases more than new construction.

The mayor, council and the city Development Department have been strong partners in recent years making it possible for the private sector to take big risks redeveloping downtown projects. It has worked. Keeping city offices in the very heart of our downtown supports and builds on the large financial investments that have recently been made by both the public and private sectors.

The City Council has made a wise decision that has long-term positive implications for our community’s compact, urban identity.

Sarah Bennett is president of Downtown Eugene Inc