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Chamber President Rejects Public Outcry To Save Kesey Square

Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce President Dave Hauser recently weighed in on the future of Kesey Square in his weekly email Feb. 5, “The Chamber Rundown,” to Chamber members.

On Nov. 17, the Chamber voted to endorse the controversial 2E Broadway proposal — the proposal to buy Kesey Square and put an apartment building on it — when most citizens were still wrapping their heads around the fact that Kesey Square was even up for sale.

“The 2E Broadway project continues to march forward in spite of a pushback from community members who view Kesey Plaza [sic] as precious public space,” Hauser writes. “One would hope that city leaders are not buying the narrative that Kesey [Square] is a wonderful community gathering space, rich with positive activity. Anyone who has visited our downtown knows that is not the case.”

Eugene has been locked in a heated debate over the future of Kesey Square since October, when City Manager Jon Ruiz brought the 2E Broadway proposal to privatize the square to the Eugene City Council in a closed executive session. 

While there are some who would like to see moderately priced apartments on Kesey Square, Hauser’s email appears to be in response to numbers of Eugene citizens who would like to see the square improved but remain public. Public reaction  has included a rally of 150 people showing up to a council meeting Jan. 25, festivals in the square, petitions and several letters to the editor as well as editorials in both EW and The Register-Guard. 

At a Dec. 2 city-hosted Downtown Solutions Forum, more than 130 citizens attended the session and the majority of participants expressed they wanted more public space downtown and that Kesey Square should be improved, not privatized (see the results at bit.ly/1Q5LMUV).

Hauser himself told EW Dec. 9 that Kesey Square works well when it’s activated with events, which he says doesn’t happen enough.

On Feb. 8, Save Kesey Square activist Gwendolyn Iris told the City Council: “In the last few weeks we have had at least 50 people speak before you in favor of improving the square rather than destroying the square, and over 150 people showed up to the Save Kesey Square rally I organized that same evening,” Iris says. “I have seen less than 10 speak in favor of development.”

The Chamber’s Nov. 17 vote to endorse the 2E Broadway proposal came about two weeks before City Manager Jon Ruiz issued an RFEI (Request for Expression of Interest, or proposals) to solicit more ideas for the city square.

In other words, the chamber endorsed the proposal to privatize Kesey Square before the city had even requested other proposals. This has led to questions about the overlap between the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Eugene, Inc. and the 2E Broadway development team.

Hauser told EW in the Dec. 9 interview that “Downtown Eugene, Inc. conceptualized the project through work we did with Pivot Architecture and Rowell Brokaw architects.”

Since 2008 the Eugene Area Chamber has staffed Downtown Eugene, Inc. (DEI), a downtown business and property owner advocacy group.

Currently the Chamber board and DEI board share two members — Tim Campbell of Campbell Commercial Real Estate and Sarah Bennett of Bennett Management Company. There are also several members from or connected to the 2E Broadway development group on the DEI board — Kaz Oveissi, John Rowell and Prichard Partners’ Sue Prichard, the wife of Hugh Prichard, who is an advising developer for the 2E Broadway project.

Hauser says there is some overlap but they are “two separate organizations; two separate processes.”

In 2012, the Eugene Chamber also endorsed the heavily criticized Capstone project at 13th & Olive.