WOW Hall, City at Impass Over Historic Street Lights

A dispute has been brewing for years over a proposal to install four historic street lamps in front of the Woodmen of the World Hall, aka the nonprofit Community Center for the Performing Arts on West 8th Avenue. The WOW Hall is willing to cover the costs of installation, retrofitting, maintenance and electricity, but Eugene Public Works is balking, saying the old lights conflict with the city’s efforts to upgrade street lighting citywide. Eugene has about 10,000 streetlights.

The light fixtures date to the early mid-20th century and were removed and stored several years ago as part of improvements in the West University Neighborhood. WOW Hall, built in 1932 and one of the few historic buildings still standing downtown, wants to buy the lights and retrofit them with energy-efficient bulbs. The intent is to add to the building’s historic ambiance and also to enhance the neighborhood and improve security, according to Jon Pincus, facilities and development consultant to the nonprofit.

“This is part of a historic landscape context for a National Register property,” Pincus says, and adds that current lighting is inadequate, particularly on the west side of the building along Lincoln Street where trees cast shadows at night and illicit activities sometimes go on.

The WOW Hall has partnered with the Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Eugene Historic Review Board and others on this project, and Pincus says he has the support of city planning staff and local businesses. But city Traffic Engineer Tom Larsen has declined to sign off on a Neighborhood Matching Grant proposal that would make the project possible.

“The response from the grant people was you need to have Public Works buy off on this for the application to go ahead,” Larsen says. “I would categorize his [Pincus’] response as getting support from everybody else on the block rather than sitting down to have a conversation with Public Works.”

Pincus says he is frustrated that Eugene Public Works won’t return his calls or meet with him. An email asking for a meeting this month was sent Feb. 6 to both Larsen and Kurt Corey of Public Works. A tentative meeting has been set for Feb. 21.

“I will inherit this forever if it goes in,” Larsen says, citing multiple concerns: Public Works has been trying to get old, inefficient, high-maintenance lights out of the system. The old globe lights have “hidden maintenance costs” and provide diffused light instead of directed light. One of the locations proposed for the old lights is next to a new streetlight. Merchants have agreed in the past to maintain special lights but went out of business, leaving the burden on the city. Public Works has denied special streetlights to other businesses, such as a pink light requested by Voodoo Donuts.

“We don’t do special fixtures for special people,” Larsen says. “I like to treat everyone the same in that respect. But Voodoo Donuts heard ‘no’ the first time and kept the standard street lights.”

Pincus says Larsen’s concerns about efficiency and maintenance have no merit, and the project is similar to many historic restorations that have been conducted by the city of Eugene and around the country. “This project will help the community understand the historic nature of the WOW Hall and will have a great benefit for the neighborhood surrounding the hall.”