BANANAs and Poisonous Mushrooms

The Glenwood and other longtime businesses make way for more student housing near the University of Oregon

On April 4, the table by the window where generations of students had drunk their coffee was empty. The day before, the Alder Street Glenwood’s light blue wooden doors shut behind customers for the last time. 

You could say the same about several businesses in Eugene. From beloved eateries to convenience stores, bars and shops, many are shutting their doors for good this year. And it’s not really the pandemic that’s to blame.

First the Glenwood was sold, then it was the storied Taylor’s property, then the UO Duck Store announced plans to repurpose its neighboring buildings. Three of Eugene’s longest standing structures along 13th Avenue in West University will be sold or repurposed for high rise student apartment complexes in the coming months. 

“It’s bittersweet, it’s hard, we’ve been packing things up and I’ve gotten pretty teary-eyed a few times,” Glenwood owner Jacqui Willey says. 

Eugene’s West University neighborhood is changing at a rate some don’t consider sustainable. But others see the development as a chance to remedy some of Eugene’s most complex issues. 

The Glenwood lot was purchased by Los Angeles-based developer Alder Ducks LLC for $3 million in June. The adjacent 7-Eleven was previously owned by Fields Holdings, which purchased the property for $1.9 million in 2013. It has since been transferred to Alder Ducks. The company plans to build a 12-story student apartment building with the acquired spaces. 

Down the street, longtime student favorite Taylor’s Bar and Grill property was purchased by Alum Eugene LLC, which will develop it as a multi-story student apartment complex. Across 13th, The Duck Store announced plans to demolish the adjacent buildings that it owns and repurpose them as a mixed-use development with stores on the bottom floor and student apartments on the floors above. 

Kevin Cronin, director of member relations and industry support with Housing Oregon, is a strong proponent of the influx of development along 13th Street. Developments like these, he says, will open up affordable housing elsewhere in the West University neighborhood for those who need it most. 

Eugene’s struggles with houselessness are palpable in the area’s tent-lined streets. The city has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the nation, with 432 people per 100,000, according to the City Mayors Foundation, an international research think tank dedicated to urban affairs. 

“Eugene has experienced greater than anticipated population growth over the last 20 years,” Cronin says. “Recently, we have chronically underbuilt the number of units to account for that.” 

Despite the potential benefits, Cronin says there is a particularly loud contingent of anti-development folks in Eugene. He refers to them with the acronym BANANA: “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.” 

When Cronin was in college, he lived near 16th Avenue and Pearl Street — an area he says has changed in more ways than one in the 10 years since. 

“They built a big high rise right behind my old unit, and across the street,” he says. “So the neighborhood has changed quite a bit over the years, and that’s going to happen. Our city needs to grow, and we’re building up rather than out.” 

He adds: “In 2010, when I went to the University of Oregon, we didn’t have homeless camps outside. There was nobody tent camping anywhere, and in that time period, we’ve had tremendous population growth, not enough units, and now we have tent cities. So the neighborhood changed in that way as well.” 

Cronin says that once new units are available closer to the university, it will free up other housing farther from campus for Section 8 vouchers, which provide affordable housing for low-income individuals and families. 

Where Cronin sees the developments as a solution for the housing shortage, people like Karl Eysenbach see them as creators of novel issues and degraders of Eugene’s small-town charm. 

Eysenbach, 74, has more than 50 years of government experience at local, state and federal levels. He spent 10 years working with Occupy Eugene, where he focused primarily on housing issues and homelessness. 

“When I came to Eugene in 1972, East 13th Street was one of the unique things about Eugene,” Eysenbach says. “It made Eugene, Eugene. You had these varieties of small shops and businesses that led right up to the university, and it was very human-scaled and friendly.” 

Though he can’t recall exactly when it began, he says that as the high rises came, Eugene’s charm began to dry out. He likens the developments to “poisonous mushrooms,” popping up and contaminating their immediate areas. 

Eysenbach says the high rise student apartments are the latest real estate fad. In the ’80s, there was a rush for shopping centers, he says. In the ’90s, it was all about senior living facilities. From 2005 and on, he says, the obsession with “luxury” student housing began, and has only grown larger. 

Eysenbach’s argument against these developments is multi-pronged — it considers community character, charm and survival of small businesses in Eugene, but it also takes issue with the feasibility of the so-called benefits of these projects. 

He acknowledges that more housing options for students and other residents of the city can be a positive asset to the community, but says he doesn’t feel like these developments are the solution due to their unaffordability. 

Rent at the newest high rise student apartment building, the Union on Broadway, starts at $910 a month for a room in a four-bedroom unit. For a studio, residents will pay a minimum of $1,299 per month. Buildings located at 515 Broadway and 959 Franklin Boulevard charge slightly less, but still come in quite high, charging a minimum of $814 per month in the cheapest five-bedroom units. 

Eysenbach says Cronin’s point is undercut by the number of vacancies inside luxury student housing complexes. If Eugene’s new surplus of units stays empty, he says it would have little to no effect on the housing crisis the city has been long trying to reckon with. 

“There is absolutely no relationship between the number of units built for luxury student apartments and the actual demand for those units by students of the University of Oregon or anybody else, for that matter,” Eysenbach says.

All three developments will be erected on the same block, between Kincaid and Alder on 13th Avenue. 13th Avenue is a one-way, which ends in a T-intersection at Kincaid. Kincaid is a partial two-way street, but dead-ends two blocks to the south of the developments, and Alder Street is one-way. 

Eysenbach also speaks to a logistical dilemma that this “egregious construction” will impose on the West University neighborhood. “From a cultural, historical, heritage perspective in the city of Eugene, it’s actually criminal that there be this much of a density in that small of an area,” he says. 

This story has been updated to reflect a little confusion between Agate and Alder streets.

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