Inventive Solution “Corners” Venerable Business

When Pat Brooks reopens her family’s florist shop at 13th and Patterson in September, the name won’t be changed to Eugene’s Flower Condominium, but that wouldn’t be inappropriate.

After a couple of years in a temporary location on Harlow Road (which they now intend to keep), Brooks and her family soon will return Eugene’s Flower Home to the corner their business has always known. But now their shop will have 18-foot ceilings, brand new construction, and 100 student apartments overhead.

Brooks returned to Eugene in 1952 to help her father run his florist business. She has worked that business every day since. Now her son and daughter are partners and a granddaughter works there part-time while she finishes her degree at Oregon State University.

Situated near University of Oregon campus and Sacred Heart Hospital, they have always benefited from their prime location. But flowers are sold everywhere nowadays. Competition has multiplied. Sending flowers has gotten easier. Proximity matters less than it used to.

When local attorney-turned-developer Dan Neal approached Brooks about selling her building on that corner to make room for a student housing project, Brooks was equal parts polite and reticent. That location has fed her family since 1922, now beginning their fourth generation.

Neal’s project would have enveloped their small building and parking lot if Brooks decided not to sell. The surrounding building would have been five stories tall in the shape of an L, with frontage on both 13th Avenue and Patterson Street. Architect Paul Dustrud was working around the problem. Nobody saw it as an optimal situation.

Neal wanted more apartments. Dustrud wanted a more welcoming design. Brooks wanted to keep selling flowers.

“We didn’t want to give up our corner and it turns out we didn’t have to,” Brooks told me this week, as she and her family have begun plans to finish the interior of the shell that was completed last week. “We wanted to stay, but we really didn’t want to become renters. Dan was kind to work with us.”

Florist and developer “had many discussions over many months,” Neal recalled. “The family recognized that this would be the most opportune time to sell their building, but they didn’t want to leave the location and lose their livelihood.”

Neal has formed partnerships with landowners before, but the Brooks family didn’t want to become student housing real estate investors. They also had no appetite for the personal guarantee that banks would require of all partners taking out a multi-million dollar construction loan.

Neal offered them a novel solution. He would design a building that included commercial space for a new Eugene’s Flower Home and give the family a deed for that portion of the building. “Once they heard they can hold the title to their space,” Neal said, “the conversation shifted.”

“I guess it’s legally called a condominium,” Brooks said. “It just sort of evolved. I didn’t know it was so unusual. Dan just created a situation for us so we could have what we wanted.”

The Patterson is opening this fall with 100 apartments, 67 below-grade parking spaces, three commercial storefronts, and one condominium.

Neal doesn’t know of another instance where a single tenant in a large building has negotiated for ownership of their space. I can think of only one, but it’s not in Eugene. A butcher sold his corner plot for the equivalent square footage and an equity stake in a skyscraper in downtown Tokyo.

Did a financial tool used by the Mori Building Co. to complete the Roppongi Hills complex in downtown Tokyo find its way to Eugene? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Pat Brooks, along with her children and grandchildren, can keep selling flowers from that corner — as the family has for almost 100 years. And that we have local developers creative enough to make that possible.

We always know that things will change. Sometimes we know which things we want to keep the same. Finding ways to make those two fit together is the trick, and we should be glad when it happens.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs