Downtown Eugene’s resurgence has been defying gravity since the Great Recession began in 2008, but it’s showing no signs of leveling off. Its ascent will hit new peaks this summer, and you can be a part of it.
In 2007, I supported the KWG Development mega-project that would have remade downtown Eugene with a sprawling “lifestyle mall” built by out-of-towners with deep pockets and high hopes. Their project promised us two things for downtown that I doubted we could get any other way: coherence and movies.
Those who opposed that project preferred a more organic approach — rehabbing some of downtown’s anchor buildings, filling them with local businesses, taking a slower pace but sending roots down deeper. I was wrong — twice.
What’s emerging in our downtown is everything that was promised. It has grown in fits and starts, but naturally. It reflects and rewards local ambitions. Somehow the various projects are forming a single and strong vibe.
Instead of the single huge project, Eugene has strung together dozens of smaller successes — spreading the risk, the credit, and the satisfaction widely. Downtown’s renaissance has not been a spectator sport.
By the end of this month, the center of downtown also will have its own movie theater again. Downtown instantly will become attractive to a large swath of entertainment consumers. Nothing else changes so often, appeals so broadly, and costs so little.
Over a year ago, downtown developers Steve Master and Tim Weiskind were trolling for tenants to fill their rehabilitated Taco Time building. Eugene’s Community Development Manager Mike Sullivan told them that Bijou Art Cinemas was looking to expand into downtown. Master cold-called the Bijou. This week they hung the sign for Bijou Metro at 43 W. Broadway.
Bijou Metro will have two theaters that seat 35 each, plus two screening rooms that seat about half as many. They hope to open next weekend, after a sneak preview for their key supporters. You could be among them.
I sat this week with co-owner Edward Schiessl over a cup of caffeine at The Barn Light cafe. Caffeine clearly has become his friend over the past few months.
“This was originally a $70 thousand project,” he sipped with almost eery nonchalance, “but it’s grown into more than $300 thousand.” Schiessl grew up in Eugene, studied film in Portland, and has a feature film of his own in production limbo. He and his three working partners who have tapped their own credit lines to save and grow the Bijou.
Although they will retain all their projectors for archive and specialty films, the industry is rapidly converting to digital presentation technology. That conversion was not in their project budget. So they turned to a crowd-funding website, kickstarter.com. In less than four weeks, they’ve raised more than $39 thousand from friends, family and fans who want to help.
The kickstarter campaign will close in five days. Bijou Metro is offering swag and a sneak preview for those who give just a little. Anyone who gives a lot could see their name over one of the screening rooms. In between are yearlong passes, private screenings, and the opportunity to curate your own series of four movie titles.
“People have responded very positively,” Schiessl told me. “We’re not a charity, so this is a little different. Most people are doing it because they want movie passes. So it’s really just another debt for us. We’re borrowing from our own customers.”
Once the digital conversion is paid for, next on the Bijou’s wish list are new screens for the 13th Avenue theaters. “They took a lot of abuse during all those midnight showings of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’,” Schiessl confided, without saying too much.
They’re also considering new rocking theater seats. “Whatever money we raise will go into enhancing the moviegoing experience,” Schiessl said.
Have the partners begun thinking yet about paying off their personal credit lines? Nope.
Schiessl barely answered the question. “We all love movies. We all love the Bijou. If we have enough to eat and can pay the rent, that’ll keep us happy.”
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns a small advertising agency, servicing local and civic-minded businesses, including the Bijou. He blogs occasionally.