Register Guard article: Developers flesh out visions for EWEB site

The University of Oregon Foundation’s proposal for the EWEB property includes a River Quarter that would feature restaurants and other types of development along the river. (University of Oregon Foundation)

The University of Oregon Foundation’s proposal for the EWEB property includes a River Quarter that would feature restaurants and other types of development along the river. (University of Oregon Foundation)

By Christian Hill
The Register-Guard
JULY 31, 2014

Three heavy-hitting developers made their cases Wednesday about why the Eugene Water & Electric Board should hand them the reins for the redevelopment of prime publicly owned riverfront property.

Two Portland-based firms, Trammell Crow Co. and Williams & Dame Development, and the University of Oregon Foundation made presentations to the EWEB board and to a separate team evaluating their visions for using the 17-acre surplus site to connect downtown Eugene with the Willamette River.

“It’s really going to be a challenging decision for us to make,” said John Brown, EWEB’s board president, following the four hours of public presentations. “Everybody did a good job. ... We’ve got time. This has to be the right decision. It’s pretty exciting to see the way everyone approached this.”

The master developers’ concepts hew closely to a master plan adopted in 2010 after a year of work and community outreach that called for the site to be transformed into a vibrant riverfront district with new and redeveloped buildings with housing, offices and retail, a public park, and pedestrian-oriented streets. The project promises the return of downtown public access to the Willamette River for the first time in at least a half-century.

Trammell Crow

The Portland office of Trammell Crow, a subsidiary of CBRE, the world’s largest real estate services firm, told the board it could bring together its adaptability, expertise and trustworthiness with the deep pockets and resources of its parent company.

“We got a big company with a good local presence sitting at this table,” said Steve Wells, senior managing director at Trammell Crow’s Portland office.

The team’s conceptual plans show a hotel and grocer on the site, three areas for housing, and the redevelopment of the steam plant and bow-trussed operations warehouse for new retail uses, such as a brewpub. The community’s master plan says those buildings could be used for housing, offices or art space.

It highlighted its work as master developer for Cascade Station, a 117-acre mixed-use development located next to the Portland International Airport and built on land leased from the Port of Portland. That development features 800,000 square feet of retail, anchored by IKEA and Target, 287,000 square feet of office space (with an additional 750,000 square feet planned) and 400 hotel rooms.

Team members said the project demonstrated its ability to work with public agencies and overcome challenges, including inflexible financing, poor timing and restrictive land use regulations.

The firm also developed the four-story Oregon Research Institute along Eugene’s riverfront in the Riverfront Research Park.

Williams & Dame

Dike Dame, his longtime business partner, Homer Williams, and their team helped develop large swaths of the Pearl District and South Waterfront neighborhoods in Portland. Williams said those are the largest public-private developments in the city’s history.

The firm’s representatives stressed their commitment to a broad mix of housing, including affordable and senior. Their proposal also includes a hotel.

Their team said they want to emphasize the character of the neighborhood and how it interacts with the riverfront and downtown.

They highlighted their ability to communicate “outside the box,” willingness to listen and commitment to serving a broad market.

Williams & Dame praised EWEB’s master plan while noting they may request some tweaks. They hailed the redevelopment along Fifth Avenue as “staggering” and said that’s a great starting point for their own proposed development.

“What you’ve done is set a great stage,” Williams said. “To me, this is not complicated. That’s where you connect in the beginning and march to the river.”

UO Foundation

The UO Foundation hammered home its local ties to the community and how its redevelopment project would benefit the area, the university and the endowment of $600 million that the foundation manages. Its board has given authority to purchase the property at fair market value.

“Our team has a strong connection with this community and this site. ... We’re committed to a successful outcome,” said Mark Miksis, the team’s development manager. “We have to get this right.”

The project would be the foundation’s first direct investment in a real estate venture, and it has assembled a team with local expertise and knowledge, said Paul Weinhold, the foundation’s chief executive officer. Team members have developed mixed-used and other projects throughout the Northwest, including Crescent Village in north Eugene, an urban village near the University of Washington, and a $75 million village and historic renovation in Seattle.

The foundation proposes to segment its development into three distinct quarters: Market, River and Steam Plant. Lorane winery owner Ed King is interested in opening a winery and restaurant in the renovated bow-trussed operations warehouse. The team also has approached Cornerstone Community Housing about an affordable housing project on the site.

Weinhold said the project is not intended as an extension of the UO campus. “We see the opportunity to do something special in this community,” he said.

The master plan ties downtown with the riverfront by extending Fifth Avenue and Eighth Avenue and connecting them with a street that arcs away from the riverfront. The area between that street and park would feature a line of eateries, called Restaurant Row, facing the river as well as a public boardwalk and plaza.

The developers said the Restaurant Row concept presents challenges and they may seek alternative ideas. They also said they’ll seek public funding to pay for the roads and utilities needed for the EWEB-owned site.

The board is slated to pick a master developer this fall, and then it will begin negotiating the agreements needed to sell or lease and develop the site. The master developers have not yet divulged how much they’d be willing to pay for the property.

EWEB commissioners will next meet on Tuesday in a closed session to discuss the proposals. The public can weigh in with its comments by visiting EWEB’s website.

EWEB will use the proceeds to start paying off the $64 million in debt it incurred to construct its state-of-the-art operations center in west Eugene. EWEB could expand the site that’s up for sale or lease to include its riverfront headquarters building.

The developers did say they want to break ground as quickly as possible to take advantage of a real estate cycle at its peak.

PROPOSAL HIGHLIGHTS

TRAMMELL CROW CO., PORTLAND OFFICE

  • Development would include hotel, food and beverage sites, retail, housing.
  • Preliminary development concept includes: 290 units of new housing in buildings 3-4 stories high; 46,000 square feet of new retail space on the ground floor of residential buildings; 35,000 square feet of other new space for unspecified uses; former EWEB steam plant converted to brewery; bow-truss former EWEB operations building converted to retail space; new grocery store building; one new 3-story parking garage.
  • “Quiet zone” for railroad crossings in downtown “will be a necessary step toward the realization of the residential and hospitality uses on the site.”
  • No specifics on price for site purchase, overall cost of development.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON FOUNDATION, EUGENE

  • Would divide property into three segments: Market Quarter near Fifth Street Public Market, River Quarter at the heart of the property, and Steam Plant Quarter at south end of site.
  • Bow-truss former EWEB operations building could house wine facility run by Lorane winery owner Ed King.
  • Would need public funding through tax increment financing for public infrastructure, including streets, improved railroad crossing.
  • Favors railroad “quiet zone.”
  • Buildings ranging up to five stories. No specifics of price for site purchase, overall cost of development.

WILLIAMS & DAME DEVELOPMENT, PORTLAND

  • Site challenges include having enough parking to accommodate all uses; more property may be needed.
  • “Strong and diverse” ground-floor retail tenants needed.
  • Has contacted Hyatt Hotels Corp., which has expressed interest in concept of hotel at the site.
  • Other potential uses: affordable housing, senior housing, market-rate apartments, market-rate condominiums, retail space, multi-tenant office space, incubator space.
  • Tax increment financing would be needed for public infrastructure.
  • No specifics about height, size of new buildings; no specifics of price for site purchase or overall cost of development.

MORE INFORMATION

On the Web: See www.eweb.org
Video presentations: Available next week at www.youtube.com/user/EWEButility

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