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What’s in a name? Deadline looms for Kesey Square’s official name

“Meet me at Kesey Square.”

Say that to most Eugeneans, and they will know to find you at that little open space at the corner of Broadway and Willamette where local artist Pete Helzer’s statue of famed author Ken Kesey sits reading to his grandchildren.

Google “Kesey Square” and the first hit you get is Eugene’s own Kesey Square via the city of Eugene’s website, which lets you know it’s also called Broadway Plaza.

Google “Broadway Plaza” and the first hit you get is a hotel in New York City. You will get hits for Broadway Plaza (Kesey Square) in Eugene, but you will also get hits for Broadway Plazas in Tucson, Minnesota, Denver and more.

Kesey Square is the unofficial name, according to the city, for the open space downtown. But it’s the name most people in the area call it. The Eugene City Council will be discussing Sept. 20 whether or not to change the name officially from Broadway Plaza to Kesey Square and the public comment period on the proposal ends Sept. 15.

In its press release the city awkwardly says that the reason for the comment period is “to ensure that the proposed name is acceptable to the community,” apparently not noting that this is the name the community actually uses.

Jerry Diethelm, a University of Oregon professor emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Community Service and a member of Friends of Kesey Square, recently sent a comment on the Kesey Square issue to the mayor, City Council and city manager outlining both why the name should be changed and why some might oppose the change.

Diethelm writes, “It’s become common knowledge that you are now being asked once again to delay your decision to rename Broadway Plaza, Kesey Square.”

Diethlem points to objections that the city may want to use the name Kesey elsewhere, like at the Park Blocks and says, “Not very likely. That’s Skinner and Mulligan land. The proposed square there is far more appropriately, and in keeping with the donor’s wishes, a Skinner Market Square, or something of the sort.”

He also reminds the politicians that the very consultants the city hired to tell them what do about downtown recommended “identifying it as the heart of downtown’s commercial and entertainment district and installing a cafe and beer garden concept that wraps around the tall walls that border the plaza to the east and south.”

Why, then, might anyone object to the idea of renaming Kesey Square? The original debate was not over whether to rename the square but actually arose over an attempt by developers to take over that open space and turn it into a building.

“Changing the name doesn’t really interfere with any plans or planning,” he writes. “Those urging delay are mainly worried about losing the opportunity to build there.”

That then is the crux of the renaming debate. It’s not about what to call Kesey Square but what it is — public, open space — and what it should remain.

The public has through Sept. 15 to submit comments in writing about whether to rename Kesey Square.

Comments may be submitted in writing to:
Mayor Vinis and City Council
125 East 8th Avenue, 2nd Floor
Eugene, Oregon  97401

To read Diethelm’s full comments go to his Facebook post here.