“Anthropogenic Decline” – Eugene Weekly
The former Eugene Water and Electric Board steam plant sits in an industrial yard on the southeast corner of the city’s Downtown Riverfront property, sandwiched between East 6th Avenue and the Willamette River. Its pale concrete walls and multi-story windows tower ominously over low shrubbery, chain-link fences, and remnants of ongoing building activity.
The Steam Plant anchors the southern end of the city’s Downtown Riverfront development – a sprawling urban renewal project that will see the construction of a whole new neighborhood in the coming years, as well as an urban plaza and park of three acres which will open in the summer. In January, the city agreed to sell the 28,288-square-foot structure to developers for $1 — a legally symbolic move, as the building was valued at negative $8.3 million in 2019. It will soon be the site of a a $56 million redevelopment project that will one day transform the nearly century-old steam factory into a luxury hotel and cultural hub.
But the building has seen better days. After decades of turning river water into steam used to heat and power downtown Eugene, EWEB slowly began to phase out the building until its total abandonment in 2012. The city bought in 2018, but by then “anthropogenic decline” — as described by a city planner at a December 2021 city council meeting — had begun to set in.
During a recent factory tour, Eugene community development analyst Jared Abbott stands outside the building next to a rusty white electrical box with the face of a clown in it. anger painted red. Wooden panels line the lower half of the building, while shattered windows and graffiti scrawled high in the facade tower overhead. Human debris litters the area, as if a trash can or two had been emptied along the perimeter of the building.
The city announced a September 30, 2023 deadline for the official inauguration of the steam plant, with construction expected to take 18 months. But before construction can begin, Abbott and his colleagues must first secure the grounds, which they hope to have completed by the time Downtown Riverfront Park opens this summer.
It turned out to be an easy task. The building is exposed; the surrounding fence is only about seven feet high. Abbott points out the many places he was cut. A large generator is nestled against the wall, draped in a silver tarp. Directly above is an open window.
“Every time I come here, there’s a new place someone has entered,” Abbot says.
Usually it’s to steal copper wire or scrap metal. He says he used to find iPhone and Android chargers plugged into outlets inside, until EWEB cut the power as a deterrent. Sometimes Abbott parks his truck out front after work and stays there until evening, hoping his presence will deter the gangs of youths who walk around at night armed with spray paint.
“We never surprised anyone inside the building,” he adds.
The city has hired a handful of security companies since its purchase of the building in 2018, Abbott says.
The latest company quit after guards came across a man with a gun behind the factory one night, the company’s manager told Abbott. The guards retreated and called the cops. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Abbott. “They already had staffing issues.”
As of May 1, the Eugene Police Department has had a surveillance trailer parked near the steam plant, according to EPD public information officer Melinda McLaughlin.
Just past the thick blast-proof metal doors of the main entrance is what was once an office. Long and narrow, the cold tiled floor of the room is strewn with paper. Late afternoon light seeps behind the bolted wooden panels above the windows to keep vandals and marauders out.
Obviously they didn’t work.
“It’s brand new,” Abbott says, pointing to new blood-red graffiti on the wall to his left that reads “KILL KKKOPPS” and “BURN THE PRISONS.”
A low shelf spilled its contents — mostly old safety manuals and industrial parts catalogs — onto the floor. Filing cabinets filled with EWEB documents line the walls to Abbott’s right, some from the 1980s.
A metallic bang sounded from somewhere deep within me. “Nobody’s supposed to be here,” whispers Abbott. “Hey!” he shouts. ” Someone here ? »
The Steam Plant’s atrium is a cavernous multi-level maze of steampunk gear, echoing the ghosts of a forgotten industrial past. Slender platforms with latticed floors hang precariously above iron canyons, whose shadowy depths are littered with memories of yesteryear: dismembered swivel chairs, office supplies, spray cans, entire filing cabinets filled with cards, blown into the dark corners of the building by a late winter wind blowing through broken windows the length of a school bus.
The city and the developers’ plans for the steam plant are ambitious. If all goes according to plan, when completed, it will house a 77-room “boutique” hotel owned and operated by Embarcadero Hospitality Group – a Columbia Gorge-based hotel management and advisory company – which will serve as its financial base. The ground floor will include public performance space and exhibition space, with a publicly accessible terrace overlooking the river at the rear, integrated into Downtown Riverfront Park. There’s also talk of office space, elevators to a rooftop bar, a large river-facing restaurant with terrace, and an on-site Arcimoto electric vehicle rental station.
“It’s not just a hotel,” Mayor Lucy Vinis said at an October city council meeting. “It is an autonomous economic engine. We don’t invest money in what we will have to invest again and again. We invest in economic development.
According to Will Dowdy, Eugene’s co-director of community development, the inclusion of lucrative businesses like the hotel allows for maintenance of publicly accessible rooms — like the performance space and gazebo — without additional financial investment.
“The proposal incorporates revenue-generating elements, so it has the ability to sustain itself,” Dowdy says. “By having parts of it that generate revenue, it allows other parts to focus more on public use.”
Beyond the security issue, Steam Plant developers and planners still have a long way to go logistically before they can begin construction. For now, the city has set the deadline for September 2023, but some factors may hinder this date. Parking, for example, presented a particular architectural and logistical problem, as the steam plant site has limited outdoor space.
Parallel street parking is an option, Abbott says, as is the utility lot next to the EWEB substation at the east end of the building, which could accommodate up to 70 spaces.
“But that doesn’t really solve all parking needs,” he says. “We don’t want parking to be the only solution. Maybe there is a way to use a downtown parking lot with a little shuttle or something.
Another potential option is to rent paid parking spaces from nearby downtown businesses on weekends and evenings, says John Rowell, who is part of the Steam Plant’s architectural design team. He also says it’s possible that by limiting on-site parking, out-of-town hotel guests may be encouraged to use alternative means of transport, such as bicycles, public transport or rented Arcimotos. .
“If you’re going on a trip somewhere and you stay downtown, the chances of you parking on surface land in a developed city are pretty low,” Rowell says.
The city has prioritized the use of electric heating and cooling, but restaurant owners can have a say in how they power their business.
At a Eugene City Council meeting on Jan. 26, city planners outlined points of agreement for the steam plant, the result of negotiation between the city’s urban renewal agency – a subset of the council – and the building’s development team, Dream Plant LLC, a partnership between Arcimoto CEO Mark Frohnmayer and local developer Mark Miksis.
Now, the next step in the process of developing the steam plant is to draft a more detailed development agreement between the city and the developers based on the transaction points. This agreement will be legally binding and will include a more specific outline of the building construction process. According to Miksis, the city is currently working on drafting this agreement with input from developers.
Frohnmayer did not respond to Weekly Eugenerepeated requests for comments.
The project is funded primarily by developers, providing $49.3 million of the total budget, while the Eugene Urban Renewal Agency will contribute $1.5 million. The agency’s contribution includes $350,000 to remove asbestos collected around one of the plant’s boilers, as well as $1.1 million to help with construction costs and permit fees. Currently, the city and developers are brainstorming ideas to fill the project’s remaining $5.2 million funding gap. There is talk of asking for $5 million from the state as part of the city’s 2022 state funding applications, Dowdy says.
The city’s budget for the project has been set by the outlets, so any additional expenses that arise between now and the building’s inauguration are the responsibility of the developers. No other public investment, beyond the city’s $1.5 million, will go into the steam plant, planners say.
According to documents from a January city council business session, the steam plant is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Dream Plant team will pursue this designation, allowing them to receive historic tax credits.
Since the developers have not yet finalized a detailed analysis of the building’s actual cost to renovate, the estimated $56 million cost listed in outlets could potentially increase as the project progresses, Miksis said.
“We are currently working on our best guesses,” he says. “We have to do a lot of due diligence in order to verify the financial feasibility of this project.”
If the project ends up costing more than the projected $56 million, Miksis and Frohnmayer could finance construction through debt, equity, or the sale of state building tax credits, Miksis says.
“Costs are increasing every day,” says Miksis. “We are in an inflationary environment. We haven’t built that operating model yet.
Part 2 of a series on downtown Eugene waterfront development.