RBA's Proposed Project in Register Guard

LOCAL NEWS

Filling in downtown
A business group proposes a tall, narrow building on Broadway

The Register-Guard by Christian Wihtol
Published: April 11, 2014 

A tall, skinny office and apartment building may join downtown Eugene’s burgeoning skyline.

The newest project would be a six-story building on a thin slice of land of East Broadway that’s now used for parking.

The parking lot is part of One East Broadway, which houses the of ices of Rowell Brokaw Architects and is owned by a business group composed of architects John Rowell and Greg Brokaw and carpet retailer Kaz Oveissi.

The parking lot sits between a Wells Fargo Bank branch to the east and the One East Broadway building to the west.

Brokaw said his group has been interested in developing the parking lot ever since the company bought it and the building in 2005.

“We’ve always had our eye on the parking lot, looking at it as the missing tooth in the cityscape,” he said. “It’s really been a question of waiting for the right time and right project type to work.”

The building would be thin, tapering from 59 feet in width along Broadway, to 38 feet at the back, facing the Park Blocks. It would be 123 feet long at the residential level. The first floor would be retail or office, the second floor would be of ice, and the remaining floors would have a total of 29 apartments, according to preliminary plans Brokaw has submitted to the city.

The apartments, a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and a few two-bedrooms, should appeal to a mix of renters, including young professionals, single adults, older people who are downsizing and anyone who wants to live in an urban environment, Brokaw said.

Brokaw said he has not yet nailed down the project’s costs and doesn’t want to release estimates.

Key to going forward is winning a tax-break waiver from the City Council under the city’s Multiple Unit Property Tax Exemption program, he said.

“It’s a critical component,” Brokaw said.

The council last summer suspended new waivers under the tax exemption program, which provides 10 years of property tax waivers to qualifying new housing developments in the downtown. The breaks had drawn increasing criticism over the years from skeptics who say recipients are getting a big tax break for a project they might have pursued without the break.

The council has repeatedly extended the tax exemption suspension, and is slated to resume discussion of the matter later this month. Some critics have said the city should reduce the size of the breaks or ask for more give-backs from developers.

Brokaw said he hopes his project spurs the city to restart the breaks.

Rowell Brokaw has scheduled a meeting with Eugene planning and building staff later this month to evaluate his project.

The proposal is at a tentative stage, with numerous unanswered questions, including whether the city is willing to waive a number of rules. For example, Rowell Brokaw wants to split off the parking lot from the One East Broadway parcel that it sits on.

The resulting piece for the proposed building would be just 5,000 square feet, smaller than the minimum downtown lot size of 6,000 required by the city, Rowell Brokaw states in its project summary to the city. Also, Rowell Brokaw wants larger projections or overhangs — from, for example, balconies or roof s — than the city’s rules call for.

In size, the Rowell Brokaw proposal is small compared with recent downtown projects, such as the new Woolworth Building at 960 Willamette St.; the gutted and renovated Broadway Commerce Center at Willamette and Broadway; and the Capstone student housing development at Olive Street and 13th Avenue.

Brokaw said his undertaking is unique.

“This project will be the first true infill project in the downtown, where a new structure is developed on a small surface parking lot, and fills in a ‘missing tooth’ on Broadway,” the firm wrote to the city.

It won’t, however, be the first small-scale new residential development in the heart of downtown in recent years. Developer Steve Master in the past several years has completed two renovation projects that converted old office buildings into new apartments: First on Broadway, at Broadway and Willamette Street, with commercial and retail on the ground floor and 16 apartments on the second floor; and Park Place Apartments, with 24 units in a four-story building at Pearl Street and East Eighth Avenue .

Brokaw said the architecture firm would move its offices from One East Broadway into the new building and look to lease out the resulting vacant space at One East Broadway.