Riverfront Song – Eugene Weekly
Cars fly by on Franklin Boulevard, whooshing through Glenwood, some occasionally honking in support of the dozen demonstrators in front of Camp Putt Adventure Golf Park on April 11. The demonstrators are Glenwood residents, some property owners, some renters, holding signs that say “Parks not hotels” and “Rivers over profit.”
Just a few hundred steps away is the site of a potential 20-story hotel complex that would occupy Willamette riverfront property, across from Island Park. The residents say they’re upset the current proposals could impact their neighborhood and the Willamette River — and the city of Springfield hadn’t informed them about the projects, either.
“Not a flier in the mail, not a door knock,” Glenwood resident Kris Maenz says. “When I was walking around the neighborhood yesterday talking with people, it was shocking how many people had no idea.”
Maenz and her neighbors are protesting two proposals that Springfield Economic Development Agency (SEDA) is considering for 8.75 acres in Glenwood, which the city owns. SEDA, Springfield’s committee on economic development, is planning to approve either proposal by the end of the month.
At the April 12 SEDA meeting, Springfield Economic Development Director Courtney Griesel said the board was moving at their requested unusual fast pace.
The development decision will be made by SEDA, which consists of the mayor, the Lane County commissioner representing Springfield and city councilors. It’s happening less than a year after SEDA voted down handing the property over to a private nonprofit to build a $60 million indoor track venue on the whole 8.75 city-owned acres.
Collectively, two of Springfield’s government groups and the Lane County government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants’ reports for the indoor track, but the project — meant to be a legacy of the upcoming 2022 World Athletics Championship in Eugene — is on hold as it seeks a new location in Glenwood.
One reason the indoor track venue isn’t moving ahead on the city-owned riverfront property is that members of SEDA were concerned about the project’s lack of research and outreach. As SEDA members discuss developing Glenwood, the last tract of land available for a large-scale development between Eugene and Springfield, some area residents are concerned with a lack of outreach. They fear the city is encouraging gentrification rather than projects that serve their community.
On Your Mark
Most Glenwood area residents live south of Franklin Boulevard. It’s a neighborhood of large, open yards where mobile homes and single family units stand together.
There’s nothing like it in Eugene-Springfield, says Maenz. Everyone knows each other and everyone takes pride in having healthy gardens. “The reason why we’re here protesting is because we live in a neighborhood,” Maenz says. “It’s something you don’t get anywhere else.”
On the other side of Franklin Boulevard, on the riverfront, the city of Springfield purchased acres of land from 2016 to 2018. City spokesperson Amber Fossen says the city paid $6.25 million for the 8.75 acres.
That property became the target for a $60-million indoor track venue, with a private nonprofit, the Springfield Community Development Corporation (SCDC), lobbying local governments to chip in on consultant reports and professional designs. The nonprofit’s board of directors included elected officials, such as Christine Lundberg while she was mayor, and community leaders like Travel Lane County President and CEO Kari Westlund.
Westlund tells Eugene Weekly that an indoor track is the missing puzzle piece for the Track Town legacy. An indoor track has a busy schedule January through March, so it would benefit hotels and restaurants whose slow times are during that period, she adds.
Locating the indoor track at the city-owned Glenwood property became a priority at an April 2019 City Council work session, according to an email obtained by EW from staff. But councilors didn’t make a formal vote — it was a head-nod agreement.
Councilor Leonard Stoehr was on the council at the time, but he’s critical of this form of voting. “It just seems to me like a way to build a false consensus,” he says. “People would rather say ‘yes’ than ‘no.’ It’s a confirmed sales technique.”
But the council uses this form of voting less now, he says. So far under Mayor Sean VanGordon, who was appointed January 2021, there have been fewer head-nod votes, though it’s more difficult to conduct such votes in a Zoom meeting. “We’re actually doing roll call votes,” he adds.
Regardless, the indoor track venue moved along, and, when asked about the project, city officials continued to say the indoor track was a priority. “I recognize this project will take a lot of effort, focus and heart on the part of staff, and I am confident that we can get it accomplished,” City Attorney Mary Bridget Smith told a resident in a Jan. 17, 2020, email.
TrackTown USA CEO Michael Reilly and other track supporters attended a June 3, 2019, Springfield City Council meeting to ask for $400,000 for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Before making the ask, he said Springfield would host the men’s and women’s 20-kilometer walk races.
The ask was followed by a presentation by Westlund, who said at the meeting that the area would see an increase in economic activity related to track. In the past 10 years, she said, $180 million came from the sport’s tourism, but another $90 million could from the 2020 Olympic Trials, the 2021 World Athletics Championships and an indoor track venue.
The City Council approved the $400,000, but only half has been paid because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s delay of the trials, according to Fossen.
By the time the council approved the $400,000 ask from TrackTown USA, a nonprofit organization that’s involved with organizing track and field events in Oregon, two Springfield government groups and Lane County had together invested a significant amount into the indoor track: a total of $241,125.
This money supported the continued plan of developing an indoor track in Glenwood, including subsidizing the salary of a Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce employee to spearhead indoor track efforts. For Willamalane Park and Recreation District, the money funded a report on the venue, though the projections were deemed too conservative for Westlund of Travel Lane County.
In a June 22, 2018, email to members of the early iteration of SCDC obtained by EW, Westlund wrote that the city of Springfield was investing transient room tax (TRT) funds for early conceptual design and programming estimates “close to $150k if pressed.” She added that Lane County was investing TRT funds “close to $24k if pressed” to secure construction and operating financial estimates with five- and 20-year economic performance projections.
Lane County spokesperson Devon Ashbridge says in 2018 the county paid $23,500 in TRT funds toward the cost of a feasibility study for an indoor track facility in Glenwood. TRT is revenue from hotel stays.
In 2018, Springfield paid $154,550 to Travel Lane County, according to city spokesperson Fossen. Because the city is a member of Travel Lane County, it agreed to pay for evaluation and conceptual design as a way to determine whether an indoor track would promote tourism in Springfield, she adds.
Westlund says these contracts aren’t unusual. “We do this all the time over the years to kind of scope large projects,” she says. “We really found in the SRG [architect firm] scoping that their initial design concepts came back at a price that we felt wasn’t going to be a good match to raise funds and for what our vision was around the kind of facility we want.”
SCDC decided to tour an indoor track facility in Virginia, using that as its design instead of the one from SRG, she adds.
Combining both 2019 and 2020 adopted budgets, the City Council approved $50,000 for a member of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce to act as an indoor track liaison. According to the contract obtained by EW, the staff member provides administrative support in the efforts to construct an indoor track in Springfield. The duties include scheduling and hosting meetings, maintaining records for SCDC, preparing agendas, taking minutes, establishing financial records, formal and informal communication with community partners and managing contracts.
When deciding who would manage the indoor track after construction, Willamalane was first on SCDC’s list, Superintendent Michael Wargo tells EW in an email. To explore feasibility, Wargo says the government agency did its due diligence and commissioned the Florida-based group Sports Facilities Association (SFA) to conduct an analysis, which cost $11,400. The analysis led to Willamalane’s Board of Directors passing a conditional resolution of intent to serve as the operator of this facility, Wargo says.
The resolution, passed March 2020, said the district would commit to operations under certain conditions, such as conducting a survey of the Springfield community and meeting fundraising requirements by 2025.
According to the SFA report, the indoor track would not see a profit until year five — which would be $13,075 — and wouldn’t pay off its debt until year 11.
When attending events, the projected average person would spend most of their money on local lodging and dining. Over a five-year period, this could mean an annual economic impact of about $6.2 million in year one and up to $11.95 million in year five. The number of days the venue would host events was projected to be 101 in the first year, half of them indoor track meets. Over the years, the total number of events per year was projected to increase to 141.
Westlund tells EW that SFA’s numbers were very conservative, which is what Willamalane wanted. She adds that because Oregon has few indoor track sites, many high school clubs travel to Washington and Idaho. Instead they’d come to Springfield.
Indoor Track Bonks
Building an indoor track on Springfield’s 8.75 acres on the city-owned property Glenwood hit a wall when elected officials on the SEDA committee had a tie vote whether to hand the property to the nonprofit SCDC, which was leading the charge on the venue.
At SEDA’s public meetings, some members expressed concern with the lack of outreach and that the property would be better-suited for private development, a sort of foreshadowing of the two large-scale development projects that SEDA is now considering. But SCDC still plans to build an indoor track at another location in Glenwood.
At the March 9, 2020, SEDA meeting, Lundberg, who was also then president of SCDC while still mayor, said she didn’t think outreach was a priority. She said building the Bob Keefer Center for Park and Recreation on 32nd and Main was done silently, without public notice. “It wasn’t a heck of a process of, ‘We have to go out.’ No, it just got done,” she said. Willamalane purchased that building in 2010.
Stoehr expresses caution about development without outreach, telling EW the city should be careful about doing that again.
At the June 29, 2020, SEDA meeting, SCDC asked the city to transfer the Glenwood riverfront property to the nonprofit to begin the process of building an indoor track. But half of SEDA’s board members expressed concern about the lack of research to gauge whether residents supported such a project.
Joe Berney is Springfield’s Lane County commissioner sitting on SEDA. He spoke critically about having the indoor track venue project on the riverfront and in an area with two special tax incentives: as a state enterprise zone and a federal opportunity zone. Allowing a nonprofit to own the land would result in less property tax revenue for the city, he said.
Because the nonprofit SCDC was pushing for an indoor track and one of its members included then-Mayor Lundberg, Berney also said at the meeting that there was something inherently wrong with that conflict of interest. He, too, was a member until he resigned in 2020.
“These financial details are new to me since I’m not on the Springfield City Council,” Berney tells EW via email about the public money spent on the indoor track. “They do raise a critical question: What was the city trying to accomplish by this spending? Was the objective to invest taxpayer money to attract maximum private investment and jobs, or to pursue a different agenda? Why? By asking questions I learned that it was to preserve the property’s availability to site an indoor track, a nonprofit tax-exempt venture.”
He adds: “In my view this was unacceptable and anything but transparent. It seemed anti-business, anti-commerce, and created the optics of self-dealing. I made those views known.”
Berney says that while an indoor track would be a valuable asset for Glenwood, Springfield has a housing and a good-jobs crisis, “not an indoor track crisis.”
He adds, “My opinion is that the best and highest use of this particular property is to maximize private investment creating hundreds of housing and affordable family housing units, and economic activity creating hundreds of good year-round Springfield jobs and tax revenue to better serve Springfield residents and businesses.”
Stoehr had requested at an earlier meeting for further information from the city, such as the economic impact of an indoor track development, and to conduct a community survey. City Manager Nancy Newton responded that the pandemic had impacted the city’s ability to do outreach.
Stoehr tells EW he was concerned about how the indoor track project would impact Glenwood residents in terms of property values and negative economic effects. “I never really got any assurance that wasn’t the case,” he adds.
With a 4-4 deadlocked vote on June 29, 2020, SEDA refused to hand over city-owned Glenwood property to SCDC.
The indoor track venue is still planned for the Glenwood area — at the transfer station, better known as “the Lane County dump,” though the actual landfill is off I-5 near Goshen. Westlund says the venue would be near three hotels and be visible from the I-5, creating “a nice synergy [for] the whole Track Town concept,” she says.
Lane County spokesperson Ashbridge says the county has not been approached about selling the property, but confirms Travel Lane County has indicated its interest. SCDC is asking the county to assist in paying for a feasibility study, she adds, but part of evaluating the building of an indoor track center would be locating and funding a new transfer station since Glenwood is the busiest site in Lane County. She adds that Lane County hasn’t seen a price tag for a feasibility study yet.
SCDC has received a lot of positive feedback after presentations from local groups like Rotary and the track and field community, Westlund says, but the nonprofit hasn’t conducted any community-wide outreach regarding an indoor track because it doesn’t have the money.
Springfield spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project, but Stoehr says it’s better to spend money on a project that goes nowhere than to continue a bad project. “There is going to be a certain amount of money that we will have to spend just for research and development in these projects. I lament that money is being spent, but I certainly celebrate that we’re not moving forward,” he says.
The indoor track wasn’t the only large contract spent by Springfield to develop Glenwood. In May 2016, before the city purchased the riverfront property, the council approved a $678,550 contract for architect services by SRG Partnership for a cross laminated timber parking garage in Glenwood. The project never finished.
Private Development Relay
Walking down Franklin Boulevard toward the riverfront greenery space, Maenz says it’d be perfect for a public park. “But then again, I’m an old Earth First!er, so I think there should be parks everywhere,” she says with a laugh.
Although SCDC failed to secure the votes from SEDA to build the indoor track venue in Glenwood, two development groups are now proposing large-scale development projects on the city’s 8.75 acres in the area. Maenz and other residents are speaking out, saying the city isn’t conducting enough outreach considering the impact a 20-story hotel tower would have on its community.
“It’s all been rather abrupt and quick,” Glenwood resident Shannon Wilson says about how quickly SEDA is deciding between the two proposals. “We want to see the river area protected foremost, and if it were protected as a park, we’d have access to it. Otherwise it’s going to be off limits to us.”
In early 2018, members of Localis Partners, a development firm, first expressed interest in purchasing the property. During mid-2020, the Eugene Emeralds contacted the city to build a new stadium on the property as the minor league team announced it was expanding its season, forcing a move from the University of Oregon’s PK Park. The Emeralds later withdrew their application.
Members of the Lonstron/Vik development group have approached the city at different points over the past 15 years and before the city purchased the property, Fossen says. The firm contacted city staff in November 2020 with its current 20-story hotel and conference center concept, under the name Glenwood Development, LLC.
That’s the proposal that brought out demonstrators from the Glenwood neighborhood. The project, if constructed, would feature three restaurants, an 85,000-square-foot conference venue, a sky bridge from the hotel to a parking garage and a 30,000-square-foot plaza next to the Willamette River. According to the proposal’s drawings, the hotel would face the river.
Separate from the hotel tower but included in the sprawling complex would be housing units. If Lane County’s housing authority Homes For Good joins the opportunity zone-funded project, housing units would increase from 494 to 555 condominium units with, at the most, 137 affordable housing units, according to the proposal.
The hotel building would be two stories taller than the Ya Po Ah Terrace retirement apartments, making it one of the tallest buildings in the Eugene-Springfield metro area.
The hotel and conference complex would be the largest between Portland and San Francisco, and it would be funded completely through the federal Opportunity Zone tax break program, the proposal says.
Passed by the Trump administration as part of the Republicans Party’s controversial 2017 tax reform package, an Opportunity Zone is a low income area designated by the governor to increase economic development. The tax break allows investors to pay little to no federal taxes on income from the project if sold after 10 years.
The second application that SEDA is considering is a three-phase development by Localis — and would also use Opportunity Zone investments. The first phase would be a soccer stadium for the Lane United Football Club, which plays at Civic Park but requires a larger venue since the team’s minor league status has been upgraded, meaning more games.
The second phase is an ice arena for the Eugene Generals hockey team, which currently plays at the Lane Events Center, with a hotel, a conference facility and parking. The final phase is housing, office and retail units.
Speaking toward the end of the recent April 12 SEDA meeting, Matt Koehler of Localis said the biggest hurdle for the project is to allow the community to be a part of the process, referencing the demonstration in Glenwood the day before.
At the same meeting, Allen Lonstron, president of Hospitality Enterprises, which is involved with the 20-story hotel complex, said his project is about raising the level of living in Glenwood. It’s about transforming an area he said he and others used to call the “Glenwood Gauntlet” when traveling through it.
Either of the proposals would transform the Glenwood area, and several demonstrators the day before the SEDA meeting said gentrification of their neighborhood was a concern — especially if it means developers start offering property owners in their neighborhood lucrative offers.
Glenwood resident and artist Ila Rose says what’s important for her is that the residents are treated by the city and developers like they matter. “Areas that have been typically seen as poor or low income are just treated like, ‘You can throw away.’”
Although the two proposals for the city-owned property offer affordable housing units, Maenz and other demonstrators say they’re not pushing a NIMBY attitude and question the price when affordable housing is marketed. “None of us disagree with affordable housing,” Maenz says. “The first couple of days we had signs that said no high rise, more affordable housing, but we discovered they got that taken care of. But what we’re concerned about is the height limit and the distance from the river.”
Wilson says he doesn’t think either of these big development projects will benefit the Glenwood community. “It’s not going to serve anybody here that lives here,” he says. “It’s not going to serve the community.”
The proposals’ priorities aren’t respecting Glenwood’s current community or the environment, he adds. If either one of the proposals passes in addition to an indoor track where the Glenwood Transfer Station is, he says the area will see a steep increase in traffic and pollution.
And in the long run, it’ll change the neighborhood’s demographics. “The long term goal is basically to turn this into a destination for rich tourists and student housing,” he says. “I don’t think they’re taking into consideration the thousands of people living here, very low-income people.”
SEDA plans to make a final decision at a virtual public meeting Monday, April 26. Visit Springfield-Or.Gov/City/City-Council-Meetings for more information on accessing.