Springfield Reuses Its Spaces Better Than Eugene

Eugene prides itself on being resourceful and innovative with its spaces and solutions, but it’s time to admit what to some will be considered blasphemy against Eugene’s religion of recycling. Our nearest neighbor is running circles around us.

Eugene wants to turn a venerable steam plant into a brewpub or something that will invite the public in to gawk at all the brass knobs and analog dials that were left behind. Springfield turned an old power station into a historical museum years ago.

Lane Community College hopes Eugene can repurpose its old downtown building on Willamette Street into a business incubator space, or into a central services hub for our homeless population. But another town has already seen a venerable downtown church rehabbed into a performance space and micro-business startup space. That’s Sprout! — and it’s in Springfield too.

Springfield is doubling down on the incubator model, as it seeks funding to further the Booth-Kelly Lumber Mill’s transformation. The city has already divided some of the space into offices and manufacturing for building industry start-ups. The city sees more opportunity ahead. University of Oregon architecture students developed concepts to reimagine the crane shed as a gathering space and retail area. If funding comes together, a space with open-air but protected from the rain could find multiple new uses.

While Springfield is contemplating new uses for timber facilities, the timber industry is developing new uses for its product. Once again, Springfield is ahead of the pack. The city has unveiled plans to build its next parking garage with cross-laminated lumber. If wood can replace steel and concrete in more projects, the region’s best crop could see a resurgence.

Springfield seems more willing than Eugene to find ways for the past and the future to cohere.

Lane Historical Museum Executive Director Bob Hart has been publicly coveting Eugene’s downtown post office building, which has been for sale for years. He believes it would be the best possible location for a museum, and maybe someday that will happen. In the meantime, we can all enjoy the art museum that Springfield refashioned from an old drug store on Main Street.

Springfield took an old train depot and made a home for Springfield’s Chamber of Commerce. Eugene’s train depot also has been refurbished, but it’s still a train depot. The adjoining office space hasn’t found any public — or even a particularly synergistic — use.

It’s almost painful to compare the cities’ city hall stories. Eugene chose to tear down its aging city hall without adequate plans to replace even part of it. City Councilor Mike Clark has argued for years that the waterfront Eugene Water & Electric Board headquarters would serve the city staff’s needs just fine, but it has fallen mostly on deaf ears.

Springfield recycled a failed downtown shopping mall decades ago to give itself an adequate city hall for little more than the remodeling costs. It’s centrally located, with parking beneath, and there was enough space left over to make room for the city’s library. Both may soon have to be replaced, but think about how much Springfield saved over the past quarter-century.

Springfield saved money where it could, so it could spend money where it wanted. Urban renewal districts attract no controversy in Springfield. Watch Glenwood be transformed in the years ahead, as the city plows investment dollars into a very modern thoroughfare — and all the city services that can be built beneath it.

While Eugene has been wringing its hands over reconfiguring Willamette Street, Springfield was laying roundabouts and a curvaceous cityscape. It will take some getting used to for drivers and pedestrians, but its design promises to combine efficient flow with pleasing aesthetics. The overall vision for the area is both clear and colossal.

Springfield has delivered on grand promises before. Most visitors drive down from Portland and Seattle. The Gateway area is living up to its name. Travel Lane County, the region’s nonprofit association to promote tourism and greet tourists, has two offices — one in Eugene and one in Springfield. Only its Gateway location in Springfield is open on weekends.

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