As the holiday season approaches, the Eugene City Council was feeling generous at its Nov. 23 meeting.
The councilors unanimously voted to remove spending restrictions on new Farmers Market expansions that will include a plaza and pavilion. The spending cap, which was previously $4.5 million, was removed entirely and will allow for work to go forward at an estimated cost of $9.8 million.
The almost $10 million cost will come from the Downtown Urban Renewal Fund, which had its spending limit increased by $19.4 million to a total of $66 million in 2016. The fund, which is paid for by tax increment funds, had its spending limit increased at that time to fund four new projects. In addition to the Farmers Market, the redevelopment of the old Lane Community College Building and a high-speed fiber network downtown, known as EUGnet, are also part of this $66 million fund.
The removal of the Farmers Market spending cap allows for the city to spend whatever it decides within the budget of the Downtown Urban Renewal Fund. The estimated $5.3 million increase, and any extra amount spent, will be taken out of other projects since the $66 million spending cap on the Urban Renewal Fund can’t be exceeded.
Councilor Alan Zelenka expressed concern at the meeting over the increase in spending taking away from other projects, such as the redevelopment of the old LCC building. The city is currently seeking proposals for the development of a mixed-income housing project at the 1059 Willamette Street building. Earlier this month, the city announced a three-year lease of the new LCC building on 10th Avenue to serve as an interim City Council chamber and work session space.
The Farmers Market is just one of the multiple projects planned for under the new Eugene Town Square that will also include a new City Hall and open space improvements in the area. Eugene has been without a City Hall since 2015. The new Eugene Town Square is set to be located at the Park Blocks including the “butterfly lot” located just up the street from the current Farmers Market location at the Park Blocks and across from the Lane County Courthouse.
After inviting members to share their aspirations and visions for the Eugene Town Square in spring and summer 2019, the City Council had been presented with small, medium and large proposals. They chose to go forward with the medium proposal, which included the plaza and pavilion.
Josh Berman, a community development analyst, tells Eugene Weekly that the City Council will still need to review construction bids and approve spending to determine exact spending.
At the meeting, Councilor Betty Taylor asked the city’s urban development manager, Will Dowdy, why the Farmers Market proposed budget of $9.8 million is almost double the original spending cap.
Dowdy mentioned improved durability, security and infrastructure for the new plaza and pavilion as reasons for an increase in spending.
“Early on, as we started to show the Farmers Market the design process we were showing them pictures of barns and buildings that had agricultural styles,”Dowdy said. “They said don’t do any of those barn style rafters through the space because rafters lead to pigeons and no one wants to be buying fruit that’s under where pigeons are roosting. All of these things add to costs and change how the structure works.”
Taylor said that she can understand the rafter issue after a personal incident she had in Paris that involved a salad, a pigeon and an inability to eat feta cheese for a couple of years after.
The meeting’s agenda, which includes a detailed report of the Farmers Market spending amendment, can be found here.