BY Katie Rosenblad
While some still find themselves nervous to venture into downtown Eugene, those that do visit the city find it a pleasant place to spend their time and they find they have many more options than what they used to. It has a much more inviting and more welcoming atmosphere due to the restructuring of downtown Eugene.
EUGENE, Ore. – The downtown area has been revitalized and cleaned up with the addition of a slew of new businesses that attract much more foot traffic. Nearing two years ago, First on Broadway partnered with Rowell Brokaw Architects to uplift and resurface buildings along Broadway Street. The renovation brought a fresh feeling and new energy to downtown Eugene. It makes what was once considered a major eyesore of the downtown area now a spot where various people can entertain and live.
First on Broadway created 16 apartments on the second and third floors of the building with store and business fronts put in on the ground floors. The remodel maintains the 1970s basic structure while also giving a modern look to the exterior of the building. They introduced taller windows, awnings, a stucco appearance, and Ipe hardwood accents to make the area look more modern. As a city-goer meanders the area they will take notice that many other buildings have created the same look about themselves, which gives the city a much needed fresh appearance. With this much more modern appearance and feel there has been a revitalization of life in downtown Eugene. Not only do the new apartments offer families and individuals a place to live within walking distance of the epicenter of downtown, the new businesses are appealing to people who never used to want to spend time in the area. Now many locals choose to spend their time relaxing and hanging out at all of the new places that have moved in.
Businesses such as Townshend’s Eugene Teahouse, Bijou Metro, and First National Taphouse take full advantage of what the prime location has to offer. And just around the corner restaurants such as Sizzle Pie and The Barn Light find residence as well. These businesses appeal to locals and visitors with their authentic menus and urban-edge.
Heather Quarles, a University of Oregon Spanish professor, sits outside the Barn Light Bar grading papers at a wooden picnic style bench under shade provided by a small nearby tree. “I love it,” she says. “I come here all the time. I go to the Teahouse a lot. I think the Bijou is great; I’ve gone there a lot since they opened.” – The Bijou Metro was able to expand its independent and art film house so that it has four large screens that range in seating capacities from 19 to 40 seats in each room.
Many have found the changes to the building to be positive. Not only do the people visiting downtown benefit from the renovations, but so does the city of Eugene and the businesses that inhabit it. While the First National Taphouse is new, its atmosphere plays off of the historic side of Eugene and showcases many features discovered during the renovations of the building such as an old bank vault door. Thus, the First National Taphouse chooses to honor the original building owner the First National Bank through its name.
With the addition of a free parking zone downtown as well, First on Broadway has been able to serve those who frequent the area. Not only does it add to the night life but it adds to the success of Eugene business in general. As people come to explore the new additions First on Broadway has generated they also bear witness to the other businesses located nearby, thus spreading the wealth and prosperity.
“I like seeing more people out here, before it was pretty empty, kinda dead,” says Doug Yook, a Eugene local who lives within a seven minute bike-ride of downtown. “More traffic has been fantastic. [Y]ou can see it’s right here supporting the restaurants and the food carts.” Before all of the additions to the area Yook spent little time downtown even though he was so close. He would frequent Mezza Luna pizzeria, or he would catch an occasional show at the Hult Center or the old Bijou. But now, Yook finds himself in the area much more as he enjoys the new local restaurants such as the Belly Taqueria which he proclaims to be “one of the best restaurants in town.” He has even become a regular at The Barn Light where he’s on a first name basis with Thomas Pettus-Czar, one of the business’ owners.
There has been a renewed sense of community downtown that has welcomed visitors and reinforced their desire to return again. As one of the first businesses to go in during the revitalization of downtown Eugene, The Barn Light sees the value and the improvements the area has achieved. Pettus-Czar finds it remarkable the changes that have taken place and truly believes people are much more comfortable visiting downtown now. He notices the amount of foot traffic has drastically increased in the area because there is so much to do now. He says, “[Y]ou can grab a coffee, you can go see a movie, you can get ice cream afterwards, and get a cocktail after that, and you can get like a late snack like a slice of pizza. [B]efore there wasn’t that option to pop around like that and really have the vibrancy of feeding off of one another.”
Happy With Change
Friends Kayla Simpson and Frances Gilberg enjoy their refreshingly cold beverages while they soak up the sun in the outdoor seating provided by the Townshend’s Eugene Teahouse. Not always frequenters of downtown, the two are beginning to see the changes and find themselves wanting to spend more time in the area. Simpson says, “I just like that it seems that there’s a different life coming to downtown, and I like that there’s more business activity.”
Simpson’s friend Frances Gilberg strongly agrees. “It’s more active. More alive,” she says. “[A] different and wider demographic of people are using this area too. It’s a lot more diverse. It brings more… It just brings more and more people down here.” It even brought her and Simpson down. With more local places to explore and sit down at to have a lively conversation over drinks other than a chain location makes the experience all that more comforting. The two are very excited to see what will happen next downtown and look forward to witnessing anymore changes in the future.
Q&A with Thomas Pettus-Czar
Pettus-Czar is co-owner of The Barn Light which was opened in November of 2012 during the beginning of the revitalization of downtown Eugene. He works to create a relaxing atmosphere where the diverse groups in the area can enjoy a cup of coffee at all hours of the day as well as beer and wine in the evenings. With a crucial hand in the business, Pettus-Czar has seen the changes that his as well as other new businesses have brought to the downtown area.
Katie Rosenblad: How long have you been in the downtown area?
Thomas Pettus-Czar: We’ve been in here since November of 2012, so about a year and a half now. We were one of the first businesses to go in in the most recent revitalization part of downtown.
KR: Did you spend a lot of time downtown before you brought your business here?
TPC: No. No quite honestly. There wasn’t a whole lot to do there, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time down here.
KR: With all of the changes and the additions of new businesses, how do you think that has changed downtown?
TPC: Oh I think it’s… I think it’s improved the situation incredibly. There’s just a lot more to do, there’s a lot more business, there’s a lot more walking traffic. People are comfortable coming down here. It feeds off each other, it feeds off of visiting events like Saturday Market that have been a staple of the community for ages now. So, umm, yeah. It’s remarkable the changes that have taken place. Where before you really have to come down for something specific or a destination, and you could come for that and you’d leave to go to whatever the next thing you would be doing, which would likely not be downtown. But now, you can grab a coffee, you can go see a movie, you can get ice cream afterwards, and get a cocktail after that, and you can get like a late, late snack like a slice of pizza. And before there wasn’t that option to pop around like that and really have the vibrancy of feeding off of one another.