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City To Issue Requests From Private Sector Only For Kesey Square

The Kesey Square saga continues: The city of Eugene announced it will issue a “request for expression of interest” (RFEI) for the Kesey Square parcel at Willamette and Broadway, but has not put out an actual decision to sell the square to a public process.

In an email to Mayor Kitty Piercy and the City Council sent Nov. 18, Assistant City Manager Sarah Medary says that city staff is currently “drafting a request for expression of interest, which will more formally ask if there is other viable private interest in redeveloping the parcel.”

An RFEI — different than an RFP (request for proposals, as discussed in EW’s “Apathy Made Visible” Nov. 19) — is a tool a city can use to assess interest in a project and identify the interested parties.

According to Artscape, a nonprofit urban development organization, there are four purposes of an RFEI for a project: to develop a clear mission, drum up interest, determine what’s needed and whether the resources are available and how best to secure them.

In the Nov. 18 email, Medary states that the city hopes to issue the RFEI as soon as possible, with responses due early January. 

“At this point, council has not given direction to surplus and sell the parcel, but it may be one of the options that council could consider given the current or other proposals,” Medary writes. “We hope to schedule a work session in January at which council could consider a range of options for the Broadway and Willamette parcel, including private redevelopment, public investment aimed at improvements to the plaza or leaving the plaza as is at this time.”  

City Councilor Betty Taylor tells EW she is against an RFEI. “I fear that’s just a preliminary way of saying, ‘No one knows what to do [with Kesey Square] so we’ll put a building on it,” she says. Taylor has previously said she is against a proposal to put a building on Kesey Square. 

“It would be OK to ask people what we should do to make it more attractive and encourage people to hang out there,” Taylor says. “We need places for people to gather without spending money. That’s the last spot left in the heart of downtown.”

Taylor also says she regrets that the city has not engaged with the proposal of Ali Emami, a downtown business owner and UO senior instructor of finance, who owns the building that houses Northwest Persian Rugs (his business) and Voodoo Doughnut. Emami, beginning in 1995, proposed to the city that he make permeable two walls of his properties — the two walls that flank the square — to encourage traffic in the square, while keeping it an open public space.

“It would have been great if we had accepted Emami’s proposal years ago,” Taylor says. “I think the city should do anything we can to help him do that.”

As for calling a council work session on how to improve Kesey Square, Taylor says it’s necessary, but it may already be too late: She says she believes that most of city council has already decided to sell the property to a private entity.

Some worry with this RFEI, City Manager Jon Ruiz, Mayor Kitty Piercy and the City Council are simply going through the motions and that the sale of Kesey Square to developers is a foregone conclusion. 

Jerry Diethelm, an urban design consultant and UO professor emeritus of landscape architecture, points out that Medary only mentions the city’s request for interest from the private sector, not from within the city itself.

“Why are we concentrating on other private proposals and not a public proposal? Where’s their public proposal?” Diethelm asks of the city. “Requests for other private proposals suggests that [the city] made the conclusion it’s right to sell the public square. How do you do that with no public process?”

The Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) held a general meeting Nov. 18 with developer consultant Mark Miksis, business owner Kazem Oveissi and others from the team that submitted a proposal to purchase Kesey Square and develop apartments in its place. 

“Mark Miksis of deChase/Miksis has conceptualized a project for Kesey Square and they are ready to seek public input,” says a DNA flier for the Nov. 18 meeting. “They are specifically interested in input from DNA.”

Katy Vizdal, a member of the DNA steering committee, tells EW that the neighborhood association has no official stance on the future of Kesey Square yet.

Last week, the city announced it will host a public forum, “Downtown Solutions Forum: Generating Ideas for Action to Improve Shared Spaces in Downtown Eugene,” from 6:30 to 8:30 pm Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Lane Community College’s downtown campus. This may be the only opportunity for the public to weigh in about Kesey Square and public space.

In a response to request for comment, Assistant City Manager Medary referred EW back to the Nov. 18 email mentioned previously. She adds the RFEI will start out by stating the three options the city manager is considering: sale or lease for private redevelopment of parcel; public investment to improve use and appearance of parcel; take no action.

Want to weigh in or learn what your city manager, mayor and city councilors plan to do with Kesey Square? Contact them: City Manager Jon Ruiz (Jon.R.Ruiz@ci.eugene.or.us), and reach all city councilors and the mayor by emailing mayorcouncilandcitymanager@ci.eugene.or.us.