Today, sun shines on the Riverfront Plaza at 875 NW Brooks St. where families and friends sit at wrought iron tables—some under the shade of an umbrella, others basking in the late-afternoon rays. Adults play yard games, sip pints of locally made beer and collect the bean bags for another round of cornhole. This scene is not only one of a healthy, vibrant downtown, but a marked improvement on what once was.
Just months ago—and for years—the park benches and cobbled grounds of Riverfront Plaza, the downtown common area between the breezeway and upper reaches of Drake Park, were best avoided. The space, often overrun with panhandlers and young loiterers, had become a point of contention for nearby businesses, city officials and community members. Some felt unsafe in the area, even intimated, and for years crime was commonplace.
The Plaza was a well-known drug sales haven and became infamous for underage booze-buying. "Get a bum to do it," became a common phrase for the under-21 set looking for a drink. One approach to revising the plaza, which was bizarre and a bit Orwellian, was to play classical music in the area, hoping it would drive away riffraff. But the unwanted transients fought back with boom boxes, and the reverse Pied Piper initiative was scrapped. Unfortunately, Arts Central, the occupants of the historic Rademacher House and the original force behind the renovation and preservation of the space, struggled to remain appealing in that environment.
What the community needed was a business that would create more foot traffic in the common area—one that would be open late, seven days a week. Enter Crow's Feet Commons, the bike and ski shop/café/pub that moved into the Rademacher House last fall. Since then, owner David Marchi has enjoyed a steady flow of business in his shop/pub (open 7 am-10 pm most summer days) and has held concerts, gear swaps and First Friday fire-pit parties in the open-air space in front of his store. And in late May, Marchi signed a lease with the city of Bend that allows for seating and table service in approximately 500 square feet of the Plaza.
Now, Riverfront Plaza is a functional community space. The city, much relieved by the increase in commerce and community, has piggybacked on Marchi's efforts by adding several "smoke-free campus" signs around the Plaza. The Bend Police Department, which regularly patrols the area, is on board too since more customers mean less crime. And the Downtown Bend Business Association is happy to have filled a reclaimed space that's home to Bend's "million-dollar view," from atop Drake Park, looking west past the river toward the snow-capped Cascades.
The city has found a reasonable way to make the beautiful downtown space comfortable and relevant, without resorting to a crazy police crackdown or "restricted area" regulations. And for that we're awarding the city (with a nod to Crow's Feet Commons) a GLASS SLIPPER.