Spotlight on Midtown Creative in The Register-Guard

(Rendering by Rowell Brokaw)

ARTICLE IN THE REGISTER-GUARD

By Ed Russo
The Register-Guard
February 26, 2017

A group of Eugene developers plans to add life to a downtown building they say now contributes to a dead zone in the heart of the city.

Mark Miksis, John Rowell, Greg Brokaw, Kaz Oveissi and other investors intend to buy the vacant building on Willamette Street that formerly housed the Oregon Antique Mall and renovate it for use by several businesses, including a couple of their own.

Miksis, a development consultant, said he and the other investors expect to buy the two-story 1940s era building at 1203 Willamette St. by the end of April from the local Lyons family.

Renovation should start in May and the first tenants could move in by the fall, he said. Expected businesses to occupy space in the building include a craft beer tap house, an architecture firm, a tech company and a gourmet prepared foods store.

The building, empty for about two years, is midway between 11th and 13th avenues, across Willamette Street from the massive Capstone student housing complex.

The investors also plan to purchase a nearby rental house at the end of April that’s owned by the Lyons family. The purchase of the commercial and residential properties will include parking lots with spaces for 58 vehicles.

Miksis and architect Greg Brokaw declined to provide the purchase price for the properties, but said the total cost of the acquisitions and the renovation of the commercial building will be about $6 million.

Miksis said the empty building contributes to a lifelessness on Willamette Street, between the busier midtown area south of 13th Avenue, and the active downtown core, north of 11th Avenue.

Miksis walks from his College Hill home in south Eugene to his office on the east edge of downtown. He said he had passed by the building for two years, intrigued by its redevelopment potential.

“I have wondered why nobody has done anything with this building,” he said.

“We are in what we call the sweet spot between midtown, which includes the Bier Stein and the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, and downtown. They are both active areas. But if you go one block north of midtown, in this direction, you hit this dead zone. A lot of it is because of this building being vacant.”

“This building seemed to be one of the key pieces to making that link between midtown and downtown,” Miksis added.

If renovated, the building would be the second redevelopment on that part of Willamette Street since the Capstone project was completed three years ago.

Longtime local developer Roscoe Divine in 2015 completed a two-story, 8,400-square-foot apartment and retail building to replace a building at 1167 Willamette St. that had destroyed by a fire. A Japanese sushi restaurant, Makoto, occupies the first floor.

Seeing potential

Two years ago, Miksis and Brokaw were part of an investment group that proposed to buy Broadway Plaza at Broadway and Willamette Street from the city so they could build a six-story apartment and retail building on it.

Brokaw owns Rowell Brokaw Architects with John Rowell, who also was part of the investment group with Oveissi, a longtime downtown business owner.

Frequently occupied by transients, the plaza has long been a trouble spot in the city center. But the City Council failed to embrace the developers’ proposal after a community debate erupted between residents who wanted the city to keep the plaza and others who thought the apartment retail building would be an improvement.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to invest in downtown,” Miksis said. “We’re interested in projects that we can move forward with, so that is where our energy is going.”

Miksis and Brokaw said renovating the building will be quicker, easier and less expensive than building a new structure.

Brokaw, Rowell and Oveissi own the three-story building at 1 East Broadway, on the northeast corner of Willamette and Broadway that overlooks Broadway Plaza.

The architects plan to move their 19-employee firm to the Willamette Street building after the renovation. Rowell Brokaw Architects will occupy about half of the second-floor space, Brokaw said.

“We have 3,000 square feet in our present building, and we have been looking for 5,000 square feet,” he said.

That’s a change from last year, when Rowell, Brokaw and Oveissi had planned to build a four-story office building at 33 E. Broadway, on a parking lot next to 1 East Broadway. The original plan was for Rowell Brokaw Architects to move next door and occupy part of the new structure.

Now, with the Willamette Street building identified as the architecture firm’s next home, Brokaw said he and his partners are willing to develop the East Broadway building for another user. The partners would work with the Eugene office of Portland-based Anderson Construction to develop the building once enough tenants are found to occupy it.

Renovation details

Two-and-a-half blocks north, the 36,000-square-foot Willamette Street building is composed of two identical adjacent two-story structures constructed during the 1940s for Lyons Furniture, Miksis said.

A 12,000-square-foot building was constructed in the early 1940s, followed by another 12,000-square-foot addition in about 1948, Miksis said. Interior doors allowed access between both halves. The building has a 12,000-square-foot basement.

Oregon Antique Mall occupied the building for 25 years, before moving in 2014 to a smaller storefront on West Sixth Avenue.

The building is made of poured reinforced concrete and large Douglas fir columns and beams, Miksis and Brokaw said.

The renovation will remove paneling and false ceilings to expose the heavy timber construction, Miksis said.

“We are going to peel back what has been applied to the walls and have a fairly unique and interesting looking building,” he said.

Brokaw said the two-story structure is a “classic loft building,” similar to those found in Portland’s trendy Pearl District.

“You don’t see a lot of that here,” he said.

The building’s present plain grafitti-marred concrete and metal facade will be replaced with glass and wood, including windows that roll up like garage doors and glued laminated timber beams. A cantilevered roof will extend from the roof line.

A new entrance will be installed in the middle of the two structures, with an eight foot wide by 22-foot tall concrete slab providing structural strength, Brokaw said.

“It’s a long skinny building on the street, and (the central entrance) will help break that up,” he said.

Essex General Construction will be the general contractor.

Leasing plans

Miksis, a development consultant and co-owner of deChase Miksis with Boise-based Dean Papè, said he will move his office to the Willamette Street building from its present rented space in the Northwest Community Credit Union building near East Eighth Avenue and Ferry Street.

Miksis said he has commitments to lease about 60 percent of the first and second floors of the Willamette Street building. He said likely tenants include a local brewery, that will put in a tap house, and a tech firm.

The building will have access to a high speed fiber network being installed by the Eugene Water & Electric Board as part of a city-funded initiative.

Veteran Eugene restaurateur Sara Willis plans to move her latest venture, Saucefly, a gourmet prepared foods business, to the building in the fall.

During the past 15 years, Willis has helped start such restaurants as Red Agave, El Vaquero, Asado and Carmelita Spats.

Now, she prepares restaurant-quality sauces, marinades, salad dressings, salsas, cookie dough, cocktail mixers and other items in a small commercial kitchen in west Eugene.

Willis, who began Saucefly last August, so far has about 50 customers who receive monthly boxes with items they use to prepare meals.

People place orders through a website.

“I create boxes for people who like to cook,” Willis said.

She said she will move her kitchen to the Willamette Street building and create a store, tentatively named Saucefly Mercado.

Willis has chosen a space in the back of the building, which will enable customers to park near the door.

She plans to rent 1,200-square feet on the first floor and another 800 square feet in the basement.

“It has a real good warehouse type feel that I’m looking for in this project,” Willis said.