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Downtown Needs Lawn-Term Thinking

October 19th, 2007 by dk

Published Friday, Oct. 19, 2007 in The Register-Guard.

Imagine a neighbor knocks on your door. He offers you a business proposal. He’s noticed that your lawn is long and your mower is old. He offers to mow your lawn for the next several years with his fancy new $1400 mower, if you’ll agree to buy his gas.

He’ll be using that gas to mow his own lawn too, so it’s a good deal for him. But your total lawn-care expense for the length of the agreement will be no more than a few hundred dollars. Keeping your old mower in good repair for that long might cost as much.

If your enterprising neighbor’s mower stops working, he’ll pay to fix it, and if he stops the mowing, you don’t buy his gas. You know your lawn doesn’t get the attention it deserves. If it did, the entire neighborhood would benefit — might even improve property values.

Do you invite the neighbor in for cookies and do a deal? Or tell him politely that you’ll manage just fine without his help?

You’re suspicious at first. Why would anybody want to mow your lawn? He bought more mower than he can use on his own, so not paying for gas helps justify his investment.

Will he take good care of your lawn? You’re paying for the gas, so you have some leverage. And he can show you he’s done this before. Other lawns demonstrate his care and expertise. He invites you to look at other lawns he’s mowed. They are green and lush. You talk to the owners of those lawns. They’re happy.

Odd as it sounds, a fellow with a lawn-edger also approached you. He asked only to be reimbursed for occasional blade-sharpening. You wonder aloud whether these two could work together so you could do business with both. They agree to try.

Maybe all you need is the edging. But a trim and healthy lawn will make the edging look even better.

Showing an abundance of caution, you gather your family around the kitchen table, asking what sort of lawn they might like, if only you were willing to invest thousands in the equipment. You get your list together to negotiate a deal. Just then your bank calls to ask whether you’d like your credit limit increased.

You don’t really need the extra credit, but it might be good to have. You can pay for the gas, even for both lawns, with the credit you have. But telling the banker “yes” also sends an encouraging word to your mowing neighbor.

Multiply this fantasy by 100,000 and you have the real-life decision Eugene voters must make on Ballot Measure 20-134.

Knocking on our door is KWG Partners from Portland, offering to invest $140 million of their own money to upgrade an unkempt part of downtown. Beam Associates has a smaller proposal that amounts to an edging on the same lawn: a single building to be rehabbed into a boutique hotel.

City Councilors have traveled to Portland and looked over other projects both developers have completed. They asked questions about the work and the follow-through. The developers have agreed to try to blend their two proposals into a single package.

Showing an abundance of caution, Mayor Kitty Piercy appointed a committee to develop a wish-list. This group, selected to represent as many interests as possible, invited everyone to participate. They came up with over 100 items they hope to see in a final agreement with the developers.

Just as this work was getting underway, the city of Eugene proposed to extend the life of its downtown renewal district and increase its borrowing limit. Measure 20-134 asks voters to approve it. The current cash flow from downtown property taxes is sufficient for the Beam project, and maybe for the whole undertaking. But the authorization of an increased credit limit will make the deal more attractive to everyone involved.

We haven’t been able to keep downtown attractive on our own for the past 30 years. It’s noticeable to others that we’ve been busy with other things. Help is knocking at our door. What will we do?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) served on Mayor Torrey’s Economic Development Commission in 2002. He was also a downtown business owner from 1995 until 2005. He is executive director for the southwestern Oregon chapter of American Institute of Architects, which has endorsed Measure 20-134. Readers may review and comment on past and future columns at his blog, right here.

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