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Eugene Weekly : News : 7.17.08




Pit Decision

Council weighs proposals to fill downtown hole

By Alan Pittman

Opus Revised Design

The Eugene City Council decided July 14 that it couldn’t decide between two strong proposals for filling the downtown Sears pit. The council delayed the decision for about two weeks to gather more information.

Local developer Wally Graff (WG) has proposed two floors of offices topped by three floors of apartments for the city-owned half block across from the library. Portland developer Opus has proposed a six-floor apartment building for 472 students.

Council conservatives lined up solidly behind Graff, who this spring contributed $1,500 to conservative Jim Torrey’s run for mayor. Council progressives appeared divided on the proposals. City staff backed the Opus proposal as stronger and more likely.

Based on documents from the city and developers, here’s a comparison of the Opus and WG proposals.  

 

Looks

A city redevelopment advisory committee favored the WG project several weeks ago in large part because of its more interesting design with balconies and varying materials and structure.

Since then Opus has revised its proposal to improve the appearance of the building (see illustration). The Opus building now includes varying materials and massing, varied window groupings with sunshades and a prominent corner with a sloped roof. 

 

Public Space

Neither project includes a public square at the corner of 10th and Olive favored by critics of former development proposals for the site. 

The WG project includes a “quasi-public” courtyard that the advisory committee favored. Since then WG has clarified that the mid-block courtyard will be largely screened from 10th Avenue and gated. WG said it intends to allow the public through the gate when the building is open but will close the courtyard at other times and when it deems it necessary.  

The Opus project includes a smaller interior courtyard with limited visual connection to the street and a door. Opus has not said the courtyard will be available at any time for public use. The Opus project appears to include a somewhat wider sidewalk at its entryway facing the library entrance.

 

Taxpayer Cost

Both Opus and WG have asked for 10 years of property tax exemptions. For the $40 million Opus project, the tax break would be worth a total of about $7.7 million, based on current tax rates. For the $34 million WG project, the tax break would be worth about $6.5 million.

Opus would pay about $500,000 for the city land for a $1.1 million taxpayer subsidy. WG would pay $1 for the land for a $1.6 million subsidy.

Both developers want a sharp reduction on permit and development fees, which could add roughly a million dollars to each subsidy. WG has also said it would like the city to pay an unspecified amount for off-site improvements, more policing around the project and possible grants, loans and office rentals. 

 

Downtown Impact 

The Opus dorm would add foot traffic from hundreds of active students who could give a big boost to cheaper restaurants, grocery stores and night spots downtown. But street activity could trail off in summer months when students are gone. Younger people would increase the diversity of downtown apartment dwellers, which have a higher percentage of retirees.

The WG proposal would add less than half as many apartments to enliven the area. The tenants would be more of a mix, less transient, more year-round and likely more tied to the community. 

The WG proposal also includes two floors of office space to add people downtown. About half this space could be filled by Pacific University, which already rents offices downtown on the other end of Broadway. 

Both the WG and Opus proposals include a similar corner coffee shop. The WG proposal also includes a small police kiosk.

 

Reliability

Opus said because of the current shortage of student housing, it wants to start its project immediately and finish it by July 2010. The large Portland developer says it’s well financed.

WG said it may phase its project, building only half of it. Councilor Betty Taylor said if that’s the case, the city should build a permanent city park on the other half of the site.

City staff and their consultant said with less demand, WG may have a harder time filling its office space at its expected rents. WG said it will take about eight months longer than Opus to complete its development.

Opus was part of a previous larger development proposal downtown that developers withdrew and never built.

 

Environment

Both developers said their projects may meet LEED Silver rating for green building standards. 

Opus’s students may be more likely to take advantage of the bus station with free passes and an EmX line with buses every 10 minutes leaving for a 5-minute ride to the UO. Students may also be more likely to commute by bike. Opus said it also plans two Zipcar rental vehicles for the project.