Council Debates Capstone Plan

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

The Eugene City Council wants to know how much its bargaining chip of $10 million in property tax breaks can leverage out of Capstone Collegiate Communities, a national developer hoping to build an $89 million student housing project in downtown.

Councilors on Monday discussed, and disagreed, on the style and tone of how to grant such an exemption - with a "please," by negotiation or leveling a demand.

A lot of projects downtown have required taxpayer help over the years, Mayor Kitty Piercy reminded councilors. "There is nothing that is happening downtown that hasn't taken the city to step up as a partner, so the question is, are we getting what we should for that partnership?" she said.

Capstone is in a hurry. It wants to break ground in June at the old PeaceHealth clinic site at West 13th Avenue and Olive Street, and catch the University of Ore gon student apartment hunt in the fall of 2013.

But the council, which has until July to decide on any tax breaks, is looking for guarantees about management of the 359-unit, 1,200-student housing development.

Written testimony pouring into the city - even before a public hearing slated for April 23 - is raising hopes for a busy, occupied downtown, and raising fears that Capstone will create a student ghetto.

Capstone representatives have made themselves available to neighbors and community groups and have freely answered questions, several city councilors said.

Among Capstone's suggestions: The developer likely would hire a local general contractor to build the complex, Eugene planner Nan Laurence told the council.

Capstone officials have said they're open to having a police substation on the site, Laurence said, and have met with the Eugene police chief to discuss that possibility.

One of the biggest issues raised about the project has been how the five-story complex spread over 5.3 acres would be managed. Capstone officials have said they plan to hire five full-time and 12 to 15 part-time managers, Laurence said.

But councilors Alan Zelenka and George Brown on Monday raised concerns about what would happen if Capstone sold the property. Capstone officials have said that a buyer would probably hire Capstone to continue managing the property, city documents show.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brown declared Monday.

He said he had researched 18 Capstone projects nationally and found that they had all been sold and were managed by other firms - and that the maintenance, security and cleanliness deteriorated thereafter.

"There's no guarantee that this will be well-managed," Brown said of the Eugene project.

After Monday's council work session, Capstone representative Conrad Sick said there are "no guarantees" that Capstone would continue to own and manage the project, but he added that any owner would have on-site management.

"The size of the project itself is going to demand on-site management," he said. …