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Selling Out to Whole Foods?

Local businesses deserve a level playing field

From an editorial that appeared on June 16th, 2005 in the Eugene Weekly by local businessman and former city councilor Paul Nicholson. The full article can be read

Whole Foods Inc., an Austin, Texas-based juggernaut, recently revealed an interest in locating in downtown Eugene. Proponents claim the project won't involve a subsidy to Whole Foods Market. However, it does involve swapping city land for land that the Shedd Institute for the Arts owns and then building a parking structure...

The Chamber of Commerce propaganda machine is already in high gear, and the Register-Guard newspaper has predictably jumped on board in support. The Whole Foods Market development can be added to the long list of other ill-advised proposals R-G pundits have advocated in the past:

The Downtown Pedestrian Mall: Based on a model that had already failed in Kalamazoo, Mich., and New Bedford, Mass., it failed predictably.

The Hilton Hotel and Convention Center: Cost us a lot of money, and hasn't saved downtown.

The Downtown Athletic Club: Diverting block grant money intended for the urban poor to an exercise club for the rich has not saved downtown.

The Downtown Clearcut: Shoppers didn't like the downtown mall any better without trees than with them.

The Pankow Project: Dispatched by the voters.

The Downtown Outlet Mall: The idea was abandoned after the discovery that the developers were con artists just released from prison.

The Riverfront Urban Renewal District: After 15 years and $3 million, we still haven't seen any of the 900 new high-tech jobs promised.

The Symantec Giveaway: Symantec left for Springfield the day after its tax abatement expired.

The Downtown Six-Lane Super Highway / Coburg Road / Ferry Street Bridge Project: Fortunately defeated by the voters.

The Downtown De-Mall: Why did we spend $50 million on the mall?

Some of these ideas might have worked if carried out as part of a comprehensive, long-term plan. But past councils and mayors have been buffaloed into one ad hoc tax-subsidized scheme after another on the false premise that any project is a good project so long as it benefits development and construction interests. Reinventing or reinterpreting city plans to accommodate every private project has made Eugene's downtown an undeniable under-performer. These schemes have cost tens of millions of tax dollars and resulted in a downtown without focus, character or charm.

The article continues in the Eugene Weekly here.