Looking for the next great investment for a new business, or a mixed-use residential development?I
t could be just across the tracks, say a group of city leaders and Central Oregon LandWatch. This summer, the organization began rolling out its "Bend Central District Initiative," a movement intended to build on work city leaders have already done, to transform the Bend Central District into an area that serves both residential and commercial needs.
LandWatch held a launch party Oct. 12, in an effort to "build support for the Bend Central District's transformation into an active & vibrant mixed use neighborhood," according to a LandWatch web page.
The BCD is bounded by the railroad (adjacent to the Bend Parkway) to the south and west, 4th Street. to the east and Revere Avenue. to the north—an area already identified by the City of Bend as a location to increase density in Bend. The City was awarded a Transportation and Growth Management grant in 2014 to create a plan called the Bend Central District Multi-Modal Mixed Use Area, allowing for more multi-modal transportation and increased connectivity. The City also amended its development code, changing it from light industrial to mixed-use development in the area—named as an "opportunity area" in Bend's Urban Growth Boundary expansion plan, acknowledged by the state late last year.
"Landowners and Midtown residents have not yet seen any on-the-ground changes that would encourage private investment in this area," said Moey Newbold, who handles advocacy and communications for LandWatch. "The pedestrian environment remains unchanged—it is unwelcoming and unsafe, which means it is risky for a developer to put a new development there."
This summer, a BCD Initiative group that included planners, transportation engineers, architects and designers created its own take on the city's Central District plan map, identifying areas where pedestrian access could be improved—including an improved pass-through for bikes and pedestrians at the Franklin Ave. undercrossing, and the possibility of pedestrian crossings at Hawthorne Ave. to cross the Parkway."T
he city has a real opportunity here because a public investment in something like improving the Franklin corridor and making the underpass more safe and inviting would not only support future of the BCD, but would also benefit the city as a whole by connecting the east and west sides in a meaningful way," Newbold said.
Also speaking at the Oct. 12 event was Kirk Scheuler, CEO and president of Brooks Resources. "It's going to take a long time—development doesn't happen overnight, but the zoning is in place here now, and the question now is, what investment makes sense," Schueler said. "It (the BCD) connects east to west, it creates vibrancy in an area... Bend downtown can't hold it all, basically."
Business owners who spoke at the event also demonstrated at least some level of buy-in from the BCD's business community.
"We're incredibly excited about reviving this area toward the future and seeing the development in progress," said Ashley Evert, co-owner of Three Sisters Inn & Suites on 3rd Street. "There's a lot of young voices in town that have stepped up."
Mike Ross, owner of Natural Edge Furniture, a board member of the Orchard District neighborhood association and the founder of Bend's Makers District, which sits inside the BCD, agreed that pedestrian access remains a barrier to getting people to visit—and ostensibly, to invest—in the area.
"One thing we hear over and over and over is, hey we walked here, and man it was a little scary out there, and so to have the bike paths, the Open Streets, these kinds of events, where we do invite other kinds of transportation, that's really cool. So let's keep doing that," Ross said.
With the possibility of development also comes the possibility of gentrification of the area, so Ross also expressed concerns about preserving the existing businesses in the Makers District.
"This area right now has the group producing things, making things with their hands," Ross said. "With development and growth, we're always concerned."
In a city in need of more housing, Newbold and others, including some on the Bend City Council, see the area as low-hanging fruit for increasing density, largely in part because of its existing resources.
"We also need to develop some of the other sites in the (UGB) expansion areas, but those are still a number of years out, because we have to build roads, and sewer, get the utilities in there, the water, we have to plan all that and that takes time," said City Councilor Nathan Boddie. "I'm not a big fan of waiting for that, because Bend needs these opportunities and the housing right now, and the nice thing about where you're standing right here, we already have sewer, we have water, we have electricity, we have transportation infrastructure. It needs to be upgraded and changed, but it's ready to go and we can pull the trigger right now."
Added Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell: "This project needs to be led by the city of Bend, because there is not a single landowner. It is being led by Brooks Resources, but they also need support from the community, from the city—so your calls, your emails to us, to the Bend City Council will matter whether or not we move forward with this project."