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Selling EWEB HQ Requires a Better Process

October 19th, 2022 by dk

I don’t blame EWEB’s commissioners for declining the purchase proposals they received for their former downtown headquarters. I blame them for something else.

Eugene Water and Electric Board had high hopes when they issued a Request for Proposals early in the summer. A waterfront building adjacent to downtown with 100,000 square feet on 4.4 acres was bound to attract interest from developers, philanthropists, civic leaders, and entrepreneurs, far and wide.

It didn’t turn out that way. They received four proposals. Each had portions that were disappointingly vague. None came from far or wide, unless you consider Veneta out of town.

Start with Olympus Academia, a private school for witches and other pagans. Their GoFundMe campaign hoped to raise $300,000. So far, they have raised $356 from three donors. Olympus Academia probably won’t be transforming itself into a full-fledged university, with the former EWEB headquarters as their international campus.

The other three proposals came from some of the building’s closest neighbors. Brian Obie is the only one of the three who has a track record that fits the scale of this project. Obie Companies has grown the 5th Street Public Market into a regional magnet by expanding westward with the Inn at the 5th, and then the Gordon Hotel.

Jeff and Victoria Wilson-Charles submitted a proposal for the property that they can probably see from the stainless steel roof of their ultra-sustainable (and ultra-expensive) Watershed Building at 3rd and Mill.

As co-owners of Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company and active philanthropists, their commitment to the area is unquestioned. If they are ready to tackle anything on this scale, their previous projects haven’t shown it.

The EWEB building’s neighbor to the east also submitted a proposal but it was never completed. The Eugene Science Factory would love to have a larger and more permanent home. As the University of Oregon expands Autzen’s athletic facilities westward, that wish may become a necessity.

Science Factory supporters hope to replicate Portland’s beloved OMSI, attracting families from across the state. Of all the proposals, this one offers the clearest and widest public use for the waterfront property. Unfortunately, the proposal contained no financial commitments. Civic Stadium proved what’s possible, but who will be able to champion the project as fervently as Bev Smith?

EWEB’s commissioners have authorized General Manager Frank Lawson to continue negotiations directly with respondents, seeking a sales agreement that balances intended use, economic benefit, sale price, financing and the proposers’ qualifications. That’s an awful lot to ask of Lawson. He already has a day job, running Lane County’s largest utility.

The commissioners should examine why their RFP process failed to attract wider interest. Maybe hanging a “for sale” banner all summer was not enough outreach. Projects with a similar scope often begin by asking only for applicants’ qualifications. Negotiations for intended use and final price can follow as a separate step.

Consultants specialize in large-scale sales like this one. EWEB should hire one. Or sell it to the city, the way the Eugene 4J School District divested Civic Stadium. And call Bev Smith.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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  • 1 Bob Blanchard Oct 19, 2022 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Don. As always, I enjoyed your column in today’s RG about the EWEB building. I am also a believer, as you so bravely revealed in your post several months ago.
    I’d love to see the EWEB building, in such a prime spot, turned into a multi-function center for local enjoyment. But, like you, I can only sit on the sidelines and hope that someone like Biran Obie has the vision to make it so.
    I’d love to meet you sometime.