Last August, fans of Crow's Feet Commons were up in arms when the City declined to renew the bike/ski shop and café's lease on a portion of the Mirror Pond Plaza in front of its building. But this summer, the City is singing a different tune.
A new lease, effective June 5, grants an extension on CFC owner David Marchi's existing lease on the Rademacher House—a historic building owned by the City. As part of that new agreement, Marchi says, he will take on management of the entire plaza, keeping it clean, doing some beautification projects, and helping handle special event requests.
"It has an amendment where we are—we're not getting paid by the City—but it's offsetting our rent," Marchi explains. "As it stands right now, if anybody wants to do an event in the courtyard, the City will direct them to us."
Crow's Feet Commons will be contractually obligated to host three events per month from June to September and one per month from October to May. Marchi says he's also in the process of bringing in three consistent food carts.
The 180-degree turnaround came about after the Downtown Livability Committee—which includes members of the Downtown Bend Business Association (DBBA), the Deschutes Library, Bend Police, the City, and other stakeholders—took a comprehensive look at the City-owned plaza this spring. Their discussions, along with the results of a DBBA survey finding support for a private management solution, led the committee to support increased involvement from CFC.
Of the more than 600 people who responded to the survey, 45 percent said they didn't see a problem with one business or entity controlling events in the plaza. About 30 percent were opposed. Nearly all respondents said they would like to see live music in the public space, followed by art shows, food carts, and the start/end of athletic events.
"The previous plaza lease the Crow's Feet Commons had for Mirror Pond plaza was significantly less profitable for the business," explains Carolyn Eagan, who was recently promoted from City of Bend business advocate to director of economic development. "Successful implementation of the previous lease could not be measured in any sort of meaningful way and more importantly, did not have buy-in from the broad group of stakeholders that the current amended lease does."
But last summer, Eagan gave the Source a different reason for recommending the City not renew CFC's lease on the plaza. She pointed to lease violations including unapproved signage and customer's taking alcohol off the premises.
"If we have someone who wants to have a lease with the City, there should be no question ever," Eagan explained last August. "Anything that makes us question whether they are going to operate in good faith would cause us to pause."
That faith has clearly been restored. Eagan now says that the she recommended against renewing the lease because there was a lack of vision at the City and insufficient community buy-in for the concept.
"[It] was a symptom of where the City was at the end of last summer. The City did not have broad-based support for the agreement nor did it have an explicit goal that it was trying to achieve with the agreement," she explains. "The City may have been looking for a vibrant gathering place, while Crow's Feet may have been looking for a way to manage the activity at their doorstep. There was no direct buy-in from law enforcement nor was there a clear role for the DBBA or Downtown Livability Committee to play."
The chorus stepping up to support CFC's involvement in the plaza included city councilors Nathan Boddie and Sally Russell.
"Shortly after [CFC] taking over management of the space, littering and bad behavior in the area began to decline. It has become another great feature for Downtown Bend and a small business success," Boddie says. "Allowing the owners to continue operating the building and expanding into the plaza only makes sense. Why not reward a business for doing it right and providing a benefit to our community?"
He says he see creative collaborations like the one between Crow's Feet and the City as a tool to address antisocial behavior—and a workable alternative to the recently expanded civil exclusion zone, which Boddie joined Councilor Barb Campbell is opposing.
"Promoting beautification and social activity effectively accomplishes the same goals an exclusion zone is meant to enforce," Boddie explains. "However using economic prosperity is much less expensive than relying on law enforcement and it doesn't run the risk of violating constitutional rights."
Marchi says he's glad the City recognizes the beneficial role CFC can play in the plaza and is looking forward to proghramming the space, a move that dovetails on Crow's Feet Commons' expansion into the former Paul Scott Gallery across Brooks Street from the Rademacher House, scheduled to open July 3.
"As a business owner, I never thought I'd have to take on the role of managing a space, but I'm proud to be part of the process and change it over time," Marchi says. "My next goal is to try to establish Brooks Street more as a zone for commerce."