Is City’s Kesey Square process just a dog-and-pony show?

Above: City Manager Jon Ruiz

Checking the public email inboxes of the mayor, city manager and City Council can offer unusual insight.

The city emails — open public records — exchanged about Kesey Square/Broadway Plaza and its potential development might confirm the suspicions that many had all along about the process: It’s a done deal.

Those suspicions, which have been expressed in emails written to the city by citizens of Eugene (see last week’s story, “Kesey Square Decision: What’s the big rush?”), as well as expressed in public forums (such as the Downtown Solutions Forum Dec. 2), that the city had long ago decided to put a building on Kesey Square and is merely humoring the citizens who want a public process for their city square.

Last week, in Mayor Kitty Piercy responded to an email from Christopher and Deb Michaels of Seven Stars Childcare.

In a Jan. 15 email, the Michaels wrote:

“The people of Eugene are awake to the issue of Kesey Square. The people want to keep it where it is and to work with government and business to make Kesey Square work for all the people. We know the voice of the business community speaks loud in your ears. Please hear the voice of the people and consider their creative ideas and suggestions.”

To which Mayor Piercy responded on Jan. 18:

Thanks for writing. As you know we are working on making our public spaces function better for everyone and to share these spaces in a way that’s comfortable to all. It’s not easy. Most of us are pretty nice people and a few aren’t. We are working on adding to our public spaces and green spaces and connecting these spaces in a great way that we can all benefit from. In truth Kesey has been a sore spot for some time and not just for businesses. There are elderly folks at the Eugene Hotel, Olive Plaza, and Aurora who find it difficult to traverse downtown and the plaza. Many people simply won’t bring their children and families downtown because they don’t want to be confronted. Women in particular, young women, have experienced a lot of nasty comments and touching. I understand these are the problems that can be found in every city. I think the developers made their proposal with good will and they are all long time supporters of our community as a whole. Kaz for example has had a rug store, an art gallery, and the very popular Peraginos. He is a good person. I think Amani has also proposed opening his stores to the plaza if resources can be found. And lots of folks have a new heartfelt desire to have the plaza stay open and function better. I am looking for a way all of these things can come together in the interest of our city. We have been doing some very good things and we need to keep on doing so. Kitty.”

Some questions arise: Is Piercy vouching for the character of Kaz Oveissi, the defacto spokesman for the group pushing the 2E Broadway proposal — a Rowell Brokaw Architects project — which intends to put a building on Kesey Square?

Does the city lack a healthy cynicism about the developers, mirroring the same lack of sophistication that brought to Eugene Capstone’s 13th & Olive student housing behemoth with little to no oversight (see “Tax Exempt, Design Optional“)? By nature, developers have different interests than cities do, who ideally should be looking out for the public good.

After saying Oveissi is “a good person,” the mayor writes of an opposing proposal: “I think Amani [sic] has also proposed opening his stores to the plaza if resources can be found.”

The city has known about Ali Emami’s proposal since October, if not earlier (see “One Flew Over Kesey Square“).

The question of “if resources can be found” should be of interest to those following the Kesey Square issue closely. The city and the developers behind the 2E Broadway have called into question the validity of Emami’s financials several times, questioning if it’s realistic. However, the 2E Broadway proposal is only financially feasible if the city gives them a MUPTE (a 10-year tax exemption) and a loan from the city.

Above: Mayor Kitty Piercy

Also in the inbox, this past week City Manager Jon Ruiz is forwarding emails to the council that are in favor of building on the square. However, there has also been a flood of emails against building on Kesey Square.

Councilor Betty Taylor responded to Ruiz: “I hope you have read all the others with opposing arguments.”

Regardless of where you stand on developing Kesey Square, citizens should pay attention to how the city manages this process and others. The same development group — Rowell Brokaw Architects — that got the City Hall contract despite a backlash and allegatons of shady negotiations. According to coverage by OPB, a rival firm called the City Hall process “deeply flawed.”

There is a “Save Kesey Square” rally planned for 6 pm in Kesey Square tonight (Monday, Jan. 25), which will move to the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at 6:30.
This blog has been updated.