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One man's Broadway: Think small.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Greg Bryant is no developer, but he's got an idea for enlivening the sleepy stretch of Broadway in the heart of downtown Eugene.

Bryant, director of The Tango Center dance hall on West Broadway, responded on Feb. 9 to the city's request for interest in developing two blocks of the street, between Willamette and Charnelton streets.

His proposal is very different from those of four out-of-town developers who responded. Three of the developers suggest a more traditional tear-down-and-build-new approach, and one proposes to renovate two buildings.

Bryant, by contrast, wants the city to buy four buildings from Broadway owners Tom Connor and Don Woolley so the properties can continue to be occupied by community groups and small businesses, including The Tango Center.

Some might consider Bryant's idea a long shot. He is asking the city to become a major downtown landlord and provide subsidies in the hope that more tenants can reinvigorate the underused street.

That could be a tough sell to city leaders, who are seeking private investment to transform Broadway and its empty storefronts and vacant five-story Centre Court building.

Bryant is up against experienced developers who all have built or are building major housing, retail or office projects in the Portland area or elsewhere.

Yet Bryant, a soft-spoken, self-employed computer programmer, maintains that his idea makes sense for Eugene. It might even cost the city less in subsidies than the traditional development approach, he said.

"The key to revitalizing Eugene is simple," Bryant said.

"Just fill the empty space."

With $30,000 and the help of 100 volunteers, Bryant opened The Tango Center, near Charnelton Street, in August 2003.

If nurtured, community groups and local businesses could bring more people downtown, Bryant said. The Tango Center has attracted 5,000 people since it opened, he said.

Other Connor and Woolley tenants on Broadway include ShawMed, a medical supply store; the Saturday Market offices; the Lane County Farmers' Market offices; Pivot Architecture; and DIVA, the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts.

The tenants "are essential to the life of downtown," Bryant said. "They deserve community support, and their protection should be a civic priority."

The other conventional developers are interested in the Broadway properties for housing, retail, entertainment and offices.

Beam Development of Portland wants the city to buy Connor and Woolley's Centre Court and Washburne buildings for $4.7 million.

Beam proposes renovating the structures, with ground-floor shops and upper-story offices, and then sharing profits with the city.

The other developers want to build new. KWG Development said it is interested in constructing housing, shops, restaurants, offices, a multi-screen movie theater and a hotel spread over two blocks of Broadway. CenterCal Properties of Portland said its proposal could include those things, plus a restaurant and a movie theater.

Bryant, however, wants the city to buy the Connor and Woolley buildings on the south side of Broadway, from Willamette to Charnelton Street. That would cost the city $7.85 million.

The city then should turn management of the buildings over to a tenants "collective," he said, with tenant rents paying for building maintenance.

The city could give $1 million in grants to community groups and new businesses to start up or expand in the buildings, Bryant said. Possibilities include a ceramics studio and a bistro.

City subsidies are key to his proposal, Bryant acknowledged. But the conventional developers also raised the issue of subsidies from the city, including reduced land costs, tax breaks and parking garages.

Bryant notes that the City Council is planning a $100-million-plus City Hall downtown. He said his proposal is by comparison "a modest initiative."

City planners are reviewing the developers' responses in preparation for a City Council meeting on March 12.

On Friday, an expanded city Redevelopment Advisory Committee recommended that planners see if two of the firms, KWG and Beam, could work together on redeveloping Broadway.

Bryant's idea failed to get traction with that committee, mainly because it would commit the city as a long-term property owner without an exit strategy.

It also does not meet City Council objectives for Broadway, including "dense, multi-story mixed use urban development" delivered in "high-quality urban design."

Yet Bryant's idea resonated with some committee members.

A redevelopment should have an "authentic Eugene feel to it, not something that is imported," said Greg McLauchlan, a University of Oregon sociology professor.

McLauchlan and other committee members said they hoped that an eventual developer would talk to Bryant about including local groups and businesses in their projects.

Another Broadway tenant, Noa O'Hare, director of the Farmers' Market, said in an interview that Bryant's ideas are intriguing.

O'Hare said he would like to discuss the collective management approach with other Broadway tenants "to see if they can actually do it."

O'Hare said the ideas are worth exploring because they could lead to a Eugene-oriented redevelopment rather than a commercial complex filled with national chains.

Beth Little, general manager of the Saturday Market, which has an office in the Washburne Building, said she's not interested in Bryant's idea because she doesn't want the task of managing the building she's in.

"We know who we are and we know what we do," she said.

"To take on that secondary role could be very confusing."

BIG IDEAS FOR BROADWAY

Tango Center Director Greg Bryant and four developers responded to Eugene's request for interest in redeveloping West Broadway. Bryant wants the city to buy properties and provide the space to community groups and local firms.

Read his proposal: www.downtowneugene.org

See his 10-minute video: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7139166258175933018

Read responses from all the developers: www.eugene-or.gov/ downtown

What's next: City Council will review responses on March 12.
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Title Annotation:Government; He proposes the city buy buildings for use by local firms and community groups
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 24, 2007
Words:952
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