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Kesey Name Game: Committee agrees on everything but a name

The nine-member ad hoc naming committee recommending a name to the Eugene City Council voted 7-2 on Oct. 9 in favor of officially renaming Broadway Plaza to Kesey Square. While the committee failed to reach a consensus on the name, it agreed that the city needs to invest in the heart of downtown in more ways than renaming it.

Vinis asked each of the city councilors to recommend someone to sit on the committee. One appointee, Tim Mueller, was not recommended but volunteered himself. City Councilor Mike Clark is the only councilor to sit on the committee himself, and he voted against the name change.

The committee is recommending that the City Council rename Broadway Plaza to Kesey Square, but other names could still be considered. Their job was not to come up with other options and the city council could still decide to name it something else. “I think calling it Kesey Square is what everybody I know [calls it],” Mueller says in a phone interview with EW. “I think it’s an organic name adoption. The community has adopted that name for the space and I think the community should be honored by having the politicians agree with them and call it what everyone wants to call it already.”

While the official name of the downtown space at the intersection of Broadway and Willamette Street is Broadway Plaza, even the city of Eugene website refers to it as Kesey Square.

Brittany Quick-Warner of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce says she was concerned that the committee wasn’t addressing the possibility of choosing a name besides Kesey Square. “If all we do is rename it we aren’t doing anything to make the space what we imagine it to be,” she said at the meeting on Monday. “Changing the name is not going to get us to where it will be inviting and inclusive to people.”

The discussion was limited to Broadway Plaza versus Kesey Square because of time constraints, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis says. “We could go to another stage, we had 45 days and nobody floated an alternative suggestion,” she says, “so there was nothing else to choose from.”

The space downtown is familiar to Eugeneans as is the debate over what it is called. Kesey was a renowned author, University of Oregon alumnus and drug user. Proponents of renaming the plaza after Kesey emphasize his role as an author and suggest that detractors should forgive him his illicit narcotic discretions.

Others in the community say they don’t think that honoring a notorious drug user is appropriate, regardless of his other accolades.

Mueller, who believes that he can bridge the divide between most of the committee members, pointed out that Kesey’s drug use isn’t a clearcut issue. In Kesey’s time, LSD wasn’t illegal Mueller says, and marijuana — the cause of jail time for Kesey — is no longer illegal in the state of Oregon.

Jeff Geiger, a local author and committee member, pointed out that one of the largest concerns of the public is not what the space is called but whether the city will spend any more time trying to determine a name before they start acting.

With a recommendation for renaming Broadway Plaza in hand, the City Council will vote Oct. 18. Following that vote the council will begin deliberating further investment in the space.

“It’s an oversimplification to say that a name is going to change what happens downtown but it gives us a start,” Geiger says. “It’s going to take more than good vibes to get the square where we want it to be.”

Friends of Kesey Square advocated for the name change