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Eugene Weekly : News : 1.28.10


LCC and Cops

City to spend millions to help and hurt downtown 

By Alan Pittman

The city of Eugene plans to spend $16 million to move 350 workers out of downtown while spending $8 million to move 45 workers to downtown.

The city is negotiating to buy an office building on Country Club Road to move its police department with about 350 employees out of downtown for $16 million. Meanwhile the city is negotiating with LCC to build a new downtown building with about 45 additional employees with an estimated $8 million in city subsidies. 

The city plans to spend about $16 million from reserves on the police station. The city is considering using $8 million in urban renewal funds, which divert money from state school funding and other government services, for the new LCC building in the pit across from the library.

The irony of spending millions to move its workers out of the struggling downtown while spending millions to bring other workers into downtown was apparently lost on the City Council. The council voted 8-0 Jan. 25 to pursue a subsidy deal with LCC without mentioning the police station.

The council voted 6-2 last April to pursue moving the police out of downtown. But eight months later, City Manager Jon Ruiz said last week he is still negotiating with the seller of the Country Club office building. Ruiz said the seller is asking for more money to assume his debt on the building. “It’s not a done deal.”

City staff say they are holding $8 million as a “placeholder” for a city subsidy for the LCC project. Staff and the council have discussed subsidizing LCC as a leading candidate for the use of a proposed urban renewal funding increase that Ruiz and city staff are pushing for.

City staff like urban renewal because it allows them to divert tax revenue from other government budgets without a vote. But the revenue scheme is unpopular. Three years ago a city effort to increase urban renewal spending downtown was referred by citizens and defeated in a 2-1 vote.

The LCC project is more popular than the 2007 proposal to subsidize a big developer to bring chain stores and parking garages downtown to compete with local businesses.

“This is a love fest here,” said Councilor Andrea Ortiz at the council meeting on the LCC project. “We’re all committed as a council to make sure that [project] happens.”

“It’s very exciting to us,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said. 

LCC President Mary Spilde said the college views helping to redevelop downtown as part of its mission to serve the community. “Community is our middle name.”

The LCC plan is to build a highly energy efficient (perhaps LEED Platinum) building in the parking lot plus pit across from the downtown library. 

The city has been struggling to redevelop the eyesore site since Sears left downtown in 1989. Three developers have announced plans to build at the site, only to have the plans fall through for lack of funding, despite large city subsidies.

LCC estimates its new building will cost about $27 million, but it has so far found only about $17 million to build there. About $9 million of the $17 million is from a LCC bond measure passed a year ago and $8 million from state approval to borrow money. 

If the old cost estimate doesn’t increase, that leaves about a $10 million gap. “We’re putting a lot of energy into closing that gap,” said Spilde.

Spilde said she’s been to Washington, D.C., twice to lobby for federal energy efficiency and stimulus funds. “Lane is hopefully at the top of the list.” She said she wants to make sure the project “actually is going to happen.”

Part of making it happen could be the $8 million subsidy from the city. City staff say there not sure yet what form the subsidy will take or exactly how much it will be, but say LCC wants cash, not a loan. The city and LCC said they expect details on a deal in April.

Councilor Betty Taylor said she supports the new building and would support the city waiving development charges for it. But “if it means using urban renewal funds, raising the debt limit, that’s another thing.”  

The LCC project would be a boost for downtown, but wouldn’t make up for the loss of the police headquarters. The project would move LCC from a remodeled Montgomery Ward building one block away. The new building would add about 45 more employees compared to the current 105 at the old building. The expanded programs at the new building will also apparently attract thousands of additional students downtown.

The city and LCC have no current plans about what to do with the old building once LCC leaves it. 

Will the city create a pit to fill a pit? A win-win alternative could be swapping the city’s Sears pit for the old building downtown and then using it for the police station instead of the Country Club site.   

The old LCC building at 11th and Willamette appears more than large enough for the police and offers an adjacent bus station and ample parking in a city garage across the street. But there’s no evidence the city will consider keeping the police downtown. Downtown lacks something the Country Club site offers that individual cops particularly prize: free employee parking.