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Brian Obie Building Downtown Eugene's First New Hotel Since
 the 272-room Hilton Eugene was Completed 26 Years Ago

By Joe Mosley, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 6, 2008 --The Fifth Street Public Market may have lost a shoe store, but it's gaining an upscale "boutique" hotel.

Market owner Brian Obie announced Friday that he will build downtown Eugene's first new hotel since 1982, by converting the now-vacant Nike Store and some adjacent space, and adding a fourth floor to the entire hotel footprint. The 54-room facility -- The Inn at the Market -- will aim for a room price and amenity level "modestly above" any other local hotel, he said.

"It will be certainly a different quality and a different niche than what has existed in Eugene," Obie said.

"It will be an experience," he said. "The rooms themselves will be very special. Many of them will have fireplaces. Many of them will have Jacuzzis."

The project -- with a price tag of $8 million to $9 million -- is expected to be under construction by late 2009 or early 2010, and will take as long as 10 months to complete.

An application for a conditional use permit will be submitted to Eugene's Planning and Development Department within the next two weeks, with that process expected to take about five months, Obie said.

Submission of a building permit application will follow, with that process expected to take several more months.

"This is a perfect example of the type of investment that needs to be made in our downtown," Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy said during a news conference at which the project was announced.

Piercy thanked Obie -- himself a former Eugene mayor -- "for his long-term vision for our community."

City Planning Director Susan Muir also was complimentary of the hotel proposal and pointed out that the city's recent efforts to streamline downtown development procedures will probably benefit Obie's project.

The city waives land use application fees for all downtown development; it provides fast-track building plan reviews that result in 25 percent to 50 percent time savings; and it guarantees same-day building inspections.

"We are ready for a proposal like this in our downtown," Muir said.

"This project is in line with what we want to see downtown -- more people and 24-hour vibrancy. It reinforces our downtown as the center of our community."

Obie's plans for a hotel on the Public Market site first came to light after he wrote a letter last December to Piercy, seeking city support for such a project. When the letter was turned over to city staff and became a public document, Obie acknowledged his plans but emphasized that they were tentative and preliminary.

At the time, Obie envisioned a hotel on the southwest corner of the Public Market's parking lot. It was projected as a $25 million building with as many as eight stories, 65 to 70 guest rooms and about 15 condominiums on its top floor.

Obie said Friday that he changed those plans when Nike vacated its 6,000-square-foot store this fall and moved to a new location at Oakway Center on Coburg Road.

"With the Nike move, it created this opportunity within the market," he said.

Obie plans to integrate the inn with existing businesses at the Public Market.

It will share an existing second-floor, outdoor courtyard with the LaVelle Wine Bar & Bistro, and the Gervais Salon will expand its ground-floor space adjacent to the hotel to provide full salon services to hotel guests and other customers.

The hotel will not have an in-house restaurant, but will offer in-room breakfasts to all guests from one of the Public Market's restaurants.

Full menu service will be available from each of the shopping center's eight on-site restaurants and cafes.

"This is a European feel," Obie said. "This will be a shared experience (for guests)."

The inn will feature a living room-style lobby and an athletic facility on its ground floor, with 18 guest rooms on each of the three upper levels. It will feature a "modern provincial" design, and each room will have a balcony.

Obie's earlier vision for a hotel at the Public Market included at least some underground parking. But he said Friday that all parking for the new version of the hotel will be by valet service to a secure off-site lot -- probably a county-owned parking lot kitty-corner across Sixth Avenue to the southwest.

Obie said the building's architects will strive for a design that is as environmentally friendly as possible, with the goal of achieving LEED certification for energy efficiency.

"This, we think, will be a legacy for Eugene and for the Fifth Street Public Market," he said.

In addition to the former Nike Store space, the hotel will incorporate the vacant ground-floor storefront previously leased by Boutique Outlet and the second-floor space currently used by Destinations the Travel Store. Destinations will be moved to a space in the main Public Market building to the east.

"Obviously, it will change (the Public Market's mix) very dramatically," Obie said, describing the hotel's impact on existing businesses.

Over the years, Obie has been increasingly focusing on high-end consumers.

The market, at Fifth Avenue and High Street, underwent a major overhaul two years ago, with more than $4 million in renovations and a new focus on upscale shopping and dining.

When completed, The Inn at the Market will be the first new hotel in downtown Eugene since the 272-room Hilton Eugene was completed 26 years ago.

Kari Westlund, president and CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County Oregon, said the proposed hotel will fill a couple of key needs within Eugene's lodging community.

There is a shortage of what she called "luxury, first-rate rooms," and there is not sufficient hotel space in close proximity to the conference center -- which is adjacent to the Hilton, a block and a half southwest of the Fifth Street Public Market.

"It's not really a project that's going to steal a lot of market share (from other local hotels), necessarily," Westlund said.

"(Obie) is building this at just the right time," she said. "He's coming in at what we hope is the trough of the recession, so his rooms will be ready (when economic conditions improve)."

Obie acknowledged the perceived risk of launching a major project during the worst nationwide economic downturn in at least 25 years. He said his hope is that "the wind is going to shift and be at our backs" by the time hotel construction enters its home stretch.

He pointed out that he has been involved in the Public Market's ownership for 30 years.

"The Fifth Street Public Market has survived, in that time, at least three if not four recessions," Obie said.

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To see more of The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore., or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.registerguard.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.

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