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Eugene Weekly : Cover Story : 9.9.2010

 

Street of Dreams

New hopes and plans for a block on Broadway

by Suzi Steffen

Broadway on Broadway, the headlines (including ours) blared when the Lord Leebrick Theatre Company announced it was buying a half-blighted block of downtown in March of 2009. The Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, director Mary Unruh announced, was putting together financing to buy the building DIVA currently occupies.

Since then, the economy has further tanked, a “jobless recovery” hasn’t exactly left Eugene or the state of Oregon in the best shape, DIVA’s plan to buy hit the skids — and some of the original optimism, naturally, has spiraled into classic Eugene cynicism. But there is life along Broadway between Olive and Charnelton, even if it’s not as splashy as the excited city expected back in 2009. We’ll walk you through a snapshot of the block this fall, from art to music to Christian outreach (true story!) and to the tentative beginnings of a theater remodel that should anchor the entire thing.

In addition, with the announcement that LCC plans to erect a new academic building on the former Sears pit site, interest in empty and for-sale buildings on Broadway has picked up, according to Tim Campbell of Campbell Real Estate. The 12,800 square foot east building on the block, which the Leebrick originally intended to sell to DIVA, is now up for sale for $790,000. “We were kind of gloomy for the last year,” Campbell said, but “we’ve had great interest since LCC announced certain things.” 

Campbell says local and Portland-area restaurants have looked at the building, especially the DIVA site. But for now, here’s how the block looks.

110 W. Broadway: Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts

Art by Kovac up at DIVA

When DIVA announced that final negotiations to buy its current building from the Leebrick had fallen through, much handwringing and some blame-slinging filled backroom chats among arts people. Looking for fault — DIVA took longer than expected to line up investors; the Leebrick didn’t want DIVA to turn around and sell the space to developers, and wanted some guarantees written into the sale; theater gets more attention and investor money than visual arts in Eugene — hasn’t helped either arts group move forward. Exhibits director Bernie Brooks has his hands full working with artists whose pieces hang in a space with an uncertain future.

But DIVA’s director, Mary Unruh, said that the visual arts group will hang in with a month-to-month lease for a while longer. Potential buyers have walked through DIVA with managers Campbell Real Estate, but Unruh said she expects DIVA to be there through the spring. Last winter was a cold one as DIVA lost its steam heat from EWEB, and Unruh said they’re making plans for how to keep volunteers, staff and gallery visitors warm this winter. 

DIVA needs to move; that much is clear, and Unruh made it sound like plans have finally firmed up for a new space. According to her, DIVA’s waiting for a city of Eugene process and documentation to go through so the gallery can sign a 10-year lease on a city-owned property downtown. Campbell said that if a restaurant or other buyer comes through, DIVA has 60 days to vacate the space.

Meanwhile, the current show, “Would You Like to Ford the River?” comes from Brooks sending out a call for art themed around the Oregon Trail game. Artists from far afield — Detroit, Mich.; Kearney, Neb.; and even Croatia — responded to his call. The anonymous Croatian collective, called Kova? (“That’s like the U.S. name ‘Smith’,” Brooks said), asked Brooks for some deaccessioned Oregon maps he had on hand, and the result was some of the best art in the show. If Brooks, who’s contracted for a 20-hour week, is there when people walk through the show, he’ll explain a lot more about each artist and discuss the ways various works got to Eugene. That show’s up through the end of October.

120 W. Broadway: Nonprofit Group Office

At 120, the building’s newly yellow and signs hang in the window, but the office looks a little empty. That’s because the new tenants — the Helios Network, Basic Rights Oregon, the Bus Project and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters — haven’t all quite moved in yet. BRO’s still looking for furniture as its field organizer goes about working on a marriage equality campaign (see 9/2’s “Activist Alert” for more information), and OLCV’s hosting an office-opening party from 3 to 6 pm Sunday, Sept. 12. We hear Lane County Commissioner Rob Handy will be there, and possibly other officials as well. 

124 W. Broadway: Future home of the Jazz Station

During September’s First Friday Art Walk, the tiny current space of the Jazz Station at 68 W. Broadway practically had to take over its entire block as people spilled out onto tables, benches, the sidewalk and even the street (at times) while Lotus Jazz and The Eric Richardson’s Invisible Arts Project filled the air. So it’s no surprise that the group found a new, larger space just down the block, one they hope will eventually include a recording studio. The space may open in January after some remodeling.

126 W. Broadway: Unoccupied

This space nicely illustrates the purpose of the Eugene Storefront Art Project, with colorful canvasses by R.Z. Fulton on easels occupying what would otherwise be a gray little blank space in the block. But enterprising nonprofits (or for-profits) might want to snatch up the 1,000 square foot space before rents start to rise. “We’ve had more interest there as of late than during the last year,” Campbell said.

150 W. Broadway: Offices of H.I.V. Alliance and the Lord Leebrick Theatre Company

Art by Nicola Noetic outside of New Zone

Avid theater fans will recognize the white furniture in the lobby of the Leebrick’s offices from several recent productions, which makes it all the more enjoyable to sit and flip through recent copies of American Theater and Stage Directions while waiting to talk with Leebrick Artistic Director Craig Willis or Managing Director David Mort. 

The HIV Alliance, which is growing like crazy and has other offices in town as well, offers many client services for those living with HIV, including support groups, nutrition classes and care coordination — helping people living with HIV figure out the thicket of insurance, if they have it, and other ways to access medical, dental and other services.

The Leebrick/HIV Alliance offices occupy the last area in the building that’s for sale. The Leebrick intends to keep and remodel the other building on the block, west of an alley that runs between the two properties. That building also hosts a mix of tenants rights now, the first of which is yet another art gallery.

164 W. Broadway: New Zone Gallery

The New Zone Gallery has lived in several places over the last decade, but it’s been at 164 W. Broadway for four years now. That location has meant a fair amount of foot traffic, especially during the Eugene Celebration, when New Zone has historically hosted the Salon des Refusés. This year’s show got renamed and somewhat repurposed as the  Salon du Peuple.

174 W. Broadway: Eugene Christian Fellowship

Yeah, that’s right: On Thursday nights, the Eugene Christian Fellowship offers what office administrator Elizabeth Clark called a “café-style” service for college-aged folks, ages 17 to “20-something,” she said. “We wanted something more central, for university students and others,” she added. The service, called Ethos, starts at 7 pm each Thursday. Clark said the fellowship also sponsors other events in the space from time to time,

194 W. Broadway: Lord Leebrick Theatre Company

This is the big one, where a stage will be, where architect Gary Moye has designed a 125-seat new theater for the Lord Leebrick. Walking into the space right now means smelling the paint and sawdust from the scene shop, located in the southeast corner of the rather carvernous space. 

Artistic Director Craig Willis spearheaded the Leebrick’s search for a new space and has been putting long hours into rehearsals lately (the Leebrick’s kickoff play for this season, Speech & Debate, directed by Willis, opens Sept. 17). The building hosted many of the Leebrick’s summer school classes and now provides rehearsal space along with the scene shop, which makes the time between plays that much nicer for actors and crew in the Charnelton building.

Originally, back in March of 2009, hopes and plans called for this Leebrick season to run half in its old location on 5th and Charnelton and then half in the new space. But the economy had something else in mind.

Willis said that the economic downturn didn’t hurt the Leebrick’s basic funding so much (partly because long-time Leebrick supporters Lane Forest Products stepped up to fill some gaps from other supporters). The Leebrick was lucky; other theaters across the country saw corporate support and donations fall dramatically. Building a new home, however, requires foundation funding and a large funding drive. Willis said that during the downturn, foundations “have had to reprioritize. Basic human services have become more of a critical priority.”

A recent $10,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation will help kickstart the funding drive for the remodel, Willis said. He and the Leebrick board would like to raise $2 million in the planned funding drive, part of that so that the Leebrick could have not only the 125-seat theater (with the possibility of expanding to 175 seats, depending on the configuration) but also a black box theater that’s more suitable to experimental plays. 

Willis, like Campbell, has some optimism about downtown. With the Beam project and the LCC plans, he said, “we’re starting to see a turnaround in downtown Eugene.” The new timeline calls for the remodel to be well on its way by opening night of the 2011 season. The final tenant in the west building on the block is at 198 W. Broadway, Shaw Med, and the business (which Willis called “a great tenant” several times during the past year) knows that eventually, it will need to relocate.

That’s the snapshot of Broadway now. Dreams abound; funding drives will hit Eugene-area mailboxes soon. For now, the neon lights are about half-on, but someday soon, there may be yet more life on that long block of West Broadway. 

The Lord Leebrick’s Speech and Debate opens at the 540 Charnelton building Friday, Sept. 17. The Salon du Peuple remains up at New Zone Art Gallery through Oct. 8.

East Broadway Party

LCC’s downtown campus plans require millions in funding, and the college says it’s secured most, but not nearly all, of that money. To help raise a portion of the rest, downtown merchants on East Broadway have plans for fun. The “Let’s Build It Together” block party, with most of the merchants between Oak and Pearl hosting events, runs from 3 pm to around 9 pm Friday, Sept. 10. Ambrosia’s got wine tastings at 5 pm and a wine auction at 7 pm; sidewalk sales, mini-workshops, arts shows and performances will line the street the entire evening. Proceeds will go to support LCC’s downtown campus. More info at http://wkly.ws/rf