Making downtown safe again is key to success

By: Nicole Desch and Melissa Achtin

Source: Register Guard (09/22/16)

Recent coverage of downtown Eugene’s public safety challenges represented a double-edged sword for those of us working through Downtown Eugene Merchants, a new network of creative individuals and businesses who believe in the future of downtown.

On one hand, the coverage highlights the important public safety challenges we face downtown. On the other hand, focusing only on the challenges can obscure the remarkable progress in downtown Eugene.

Downtown Eugene has made outstanding strides in recent years. With exceptional support from the city of Eugene, developers, Downtown Eugene Inc., the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and many others, more than $300 million has been invested in our downtown in the past six years.

It is astounding to reflect on the long list of projects — including the Broadway Commerce Center, Lane Community College’s beautiful and sustainable downtown campus, the Woolworth Building, Core Campus’ The Hub, Northwest Community Credit Union, the University of Oregon Innovation Hub and more.

And there are additional projects in the pipeline such as Whole Foods Market, a new City Hall, Home2 Suites by Hilton, 33 East Broadway and the Olive Lofts, among others.

These new investments have brought residents, students and other people, and positive energy, to downtown. Add to that a burgeoning technology and start-up scene, new retail shops and restaurants, and new property owners, and it is easy to become very excited about the positive trajectory for downtown Eugene.

While we are proud of what has been accomplished, we know the journey to a great downtown is far from complete. We need to continue to encourage investment, and it is critical that we address the public safety challenges facing downtown. For all of the wonderful progress that has been made, lingering illegal and unpleasant behaviors occur regularly in downtown, enabled by a lack of accountability or consequences for those actions. There are physical spaces that are abused, misused or underused. Opportunities are available to connect those who need and want social services to resources.

We hope citizens will continue to patronize our downtown and all of the cool, unique, hip, fun, organic and interesting things downtown has to offer. At the same time, we are calling on business and government leaders to make the development of comprehensive and coordinated downtown safety effort a priority.

Rather than rest on the remarkable accomplishments of the past six years, we believe now is the time to work even harder on the future for our downtown. We want to continue to fuel a burgeoning tech and start-up scene; we want downtown to continue to play a key role in retaining and attracting young talent, we want to present a vibrant and beautiful downtown to the world when we welcome the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in 2021 and, most importantly, we want downtown to be a place for all of us to enjoy for decades to come.

We call on all of Eugene and the surrounding communities to support and patronize downtown businesses. With more than 50 eateries, more than 30 independent retailers and a dozen enter­tainment venues and galleries, downtown Eugene has so much to offer!

The support of the community is crucial in the continued advancement of downtown.

Nicole Desch and Melissa Achtien are members of Downtown Eugene Merchants, a group committed to promoting collaboration and vibrancy for a more prosperous downtown Eugene.