City needs smart use for surplus land


On Jan. 10 of last year, I attended a City Council meeting and addressed the body regarding the sale of the “Surplus” 9th Street city property that formerly housed the Public Works Maintenance Facility, which has since been decommissioned and replaced.

I asked that the city be “forward thinking” and consider rezoning that property as “commercial” prior to putting it on the market.

City officials were not particularly interested in my proposal, and the minutes of that meeting do not reflect the principal points of my discussion with the council. In the most recent New Era, it was reported that the City Council recently discussed the possibility of rezoning the property as commercial as they voted to reduce the sale price.

This past week I wrote to city officials applauding that possible reconsideration and reiterated the points I made in the meeting over a year ago. I will elaborate here as to what my point was (and is).

The City of Sweet Home repeatedly states that it is endeavoring to improve and enhance economic vitality. However, I honestly feel that the city is in the habit of sitting on its proverbial hands while opportunities evaporate. This excess property is a property that can be the first step in helping Sweet Home improve its economic future and help to make it a destination rather than someplace that people drive through on their way to Bend or Sisters.

During the Jan 10, 2017 meeting, I explained how the Whittaker neighborhood in Eugene was transformed from a run-down blighted part of Eugene into a vibrant neighborhood with several eateries and brew-pubs. Rezoning helped to transform that neighborhood a little at a time to what it is now.

However, this transformation would not have occurred without visionary thinking by Eugene city government.

The immediate Sweet Home area has amazing recreational opportunities, but does not have the business core that makes people want to come here to simply hang out in town after taking advantage of those recreational opportunities.

In reading The New Era these past couple months, I have noticed in the “From Our Files” area of the paper, which highlights articles and stories from 25 and 50 years ago, more than one instance of city officials and members of the public pointing out how Sweet Home needs to be “more inviting” to visitors, and how the city was one that people pass through on their way to somewhere else. There remains, after all these years, little change to this absence of such “invitation.”

Mike Hall, of The Point Restaurant, to his credit, has taken it upon himself to make the east end of Sweet Home more of a destination through his upgrading of facilities and turning the restaurant into a music venue as well.

Also, there have been athletic events and runs that have begun to put Sweet Home on the map. And, of course we have our annual Jamboree, but there is little in the arena of services that would attract people to Sweet Home as far as an interesting place to spend time after attending these events, and/or to return to the area, yes, but the city itself, no.

The excess 9th Avenue property represents a unique opportunity to start to change things.

I have recently written the city and asked them to please step back and look at the big picture and consider the following. If they were to change the zoning, immediately, to “commercial,” the city might lure a business to that site that would be a “destination business” like a hotel, restaurant, brew-pub or other similar business.

Small cities that have water-front property have remade themselves with the waterway being the centerpiece.

Silverton is one such example. If you can get one destination-type business in that neighborhood, it is a starting point. We have to start somewhere, and I truly believe the river is one of the best places to start. If we can get one “destination enterprise” on the river, subsequent requests for rezoning over time, on other properties can completely transform the neighborhood, the City of Sweet Home, and turn our city into a city that is viewed as a destination city.

Our city seems to be stuck and unwilling to become all that it can be. We often seem to put our money and efforts into things that are not substantive in improving the long-term appeal of our city.

I worry that many may simply be afraid of substantive change. However, if we don’t change our approach to economic development, nothing will change. We need to start embracing opportunities and developing a true vision of a prosperous Sweet Home.

Although I know many on the council continue to hope for an eventual “mega-employer” coming in and solving our problems, we should be focusing on what we can do to improve Sweet Home’s appeal to people in general, as well as to prospective new business. What we need, in the meantime, is incremental change that will cause people to want to visit and explore our city and position ourselves to attract business to our city. We have recreation, and recreation may well be our future. We need to think of ways that we can enhance and exploit our natural recreational opportunities.

The annual triathlon and the Oregon Jamboree are examples of utilizing and showcasing events in Sweet Home. However, we need business facilities and city facilities to enhance those experiences. We need to give additional reasons for people to come visit us. Once people want to visit, they will want to return, and maybe want to live here. When people want to move here, they bring their money with them. And spending their money locally will encourage businesses to establish themselves here, which creates additional employment, as demand for services and product increases..

I applaud those members of the City Council who voted to lower the price on the property, but strongly encourage them to take the next step, and rezone the property as commercial.

If that property is sold as a home site, we lose an important economic opportunity.

I would go so far as to suggest an even lower price if the city could lure an appropriate business opportunity that would then encourage complementary businesses to seek future properties along the river. I honestly believe that riverfront development is the best way for Sweet Home to enhance its future.

Selling this excess piece of property as a homesite is not pre-positioning the city for the type of future that all claim they want to see happen.

Gary Jarvis

Sweet Home