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Obie Outlines ‘Market District’

Brian Obie
Brian Obie

“I doubt we’ll put in a Ferris wheel,” Brian Obie says of his proposed new development downtown. County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Feb. 26 to give Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson authority to enter into discussions for an interim lease and exclusive negotiating rights with Obie and Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County (HACSA) for land at East 6th Avenue and Oak, near Obie’s 5th Street Public Market. 

He compared the development, part of what he is calling the “Market District,” to European cities like Copenhagen and to the Pearl District in Portland. Obie says the Pearl District is “colder” than what he sees for Eugene, and the HACSA portion is planning on preserving the historic “bus barn” building as part of the project. 

The current proposal, which Obie says is going through due diligence and subject to change, currently features a cinema similar to the Steve Masters/Bijou project at Broadway and Willamette, but Obie says, “I wouldn’t want to duplicate that.” 

Architecture Week Editor Kevin Matthews says he has doubts the project will proceed with the quality called for in the plans without substantive public input. He calls Obie’s hotel at 5th Street Market “provincially low-brow for a self-proclaimed ‘boutique hotel,’” and criticizes it for turning its back on 5th Avenue and “wiping out a key section of the pedestrian promenade,” which he says is “in direct contradiction to the public drawings and renderings presented at the time of public approval.”

Pete Sorenson was the no vote on the County Commission. He says, “Having almost a complete block of land and have it be vibrant and beautiful and contribute to the community and be respectful that it’s owned by 350,000 owners” is a positive, and as such he would like to see a public hearing to get input from county residents on the proposal. The final lease would be for 99 years, with the fee renegotiated every five years, Obie says.

Matthews questions the lack of public input, saying the commissioners’ swift vote without public comment “simply cements the impression of insider dealing.”

Sorenson says that if the Lane County Farmers Market were to move to the new development it would affect farmers, the county and the city, and needs their input. County spokesperson Jason Davis says, “At this point there is not a lot to talk about; details are not ironed out,” but added that there will be full transparency going forward so the community has a voice.

Obie says the proposal is already responsive to public comment — it developed from input on downtown density in the Envision Eugene process. He says as it progresses he wants to get input from future generations, even kindergartners, about what they want to see developed on the land. 

Obie says one thing that has gone without mention in recent media about his project is that the city of Eugene will be a “very important partner in this” from permitting to planning. 

The joint Obie/HACSA proposal would have 170 market-price apartments and 64 low-income “workforce housing” apartments, a grocery store — Obie says he will offer it first to someone local like Market of Choice — and perhaps give a permanent home to the Farmers Market. He says there have been talks with the Farmers Market but nothing has been determined. 

The timeline for development is fairly long, Obie says, and projects like these are “fragile.” One issue that will take at least a year, he says, is the possible presence of underground storage tanks and soil contamination on the site.  That cleanup would be the responsibility of the county, Davis says, as it addresses pre-existing environmental issues. “This clean-up has to happen; we can’t have polluted soil sitting there,” he says, and adds that the county is looking into creative funding solutions for the mitigation.