Bend’s urban core needs music venues

Could development plan include music/culture?

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin / @frequencyblog

Published Mar 14, 2014 at 12:11AM

On Thursday from 6:30-8:45 p.m., the City of Bend will host a public meeting at the Bend Police station (555 N.E. 15th St.) about something called the Bend Central District Multimodal Mixed-Use Area (or MMA).

I know. Back to jamgrass and punk rock, please!

But this is important. The Central District MMA is essentially an effort to plan the future of transportation and development in an area city officials believe is key to Bend’s long-term growth. The northern boundary of the area runs along Revere Avenue. The eastern boundary follows Fourth Street until it comes to a point on the south with the western boundary, which runs along the railroad tracks. The southern point is east of the Military Surplus store on Third Street.

In more practical terms, if employed correctly, the MMA should put in place a plan for dense commercial and residential development that is easily accessible by foot, bike, car or public transportation via the nearby Hawthorne Station transit hub . As a civic-minded friend of mine put it: Someday, the MMA could be Bend’s downtown.

Now, I am not an urban planner. Nor have I studied the materials related to the MMA project in depth. I did attend one previous meeting on the topic, but had to leave early.

I’m just a lowly music writer who cares about the future of Bend, specifically the future of music, arts and culture in Bend.

And it does not escape my attention that this area is one I have written about before. Back in November, I attended the annual Church of Neil concert, an underground event at which local bands cover Neil Young songs. It happened just barely outside the boundaries of the MMA in an empty building on an industrial street, and it was an amazing scene. Afterward, I wrote:

“If we’re interested in securing a bright future for arts and culture in Bend, the most promising stretch of land in town is along Northeast First and Second streets between, say, Franklin Avenue on the south and Revere Avenue (or thereabouts) on the north.

“It’s a perfect area: daytime businesses and few residences, with easy access to downtown and Third Street. Lots of big buildings and relatively inexpensive rent.

“Close proximity to established cultural businesses such as the Domino Room, Silver Moon Brewing, 2nd Street Theater and Platypus Pub.

“It makes so much sense, in my opinion, to try to grow a cluster of arts/cultural/entertainment businesses in that part of town. In fact, if I were a local government official, tasked with ensuring Bend’s vibrant future — especially with the knowledge that a four-year college is growing and all the students and staff that will bring — I’d be looking into ways to incentivize exactly that kind of development there.”

Man, if only there were a process happening that could incorporate that kind of thing!

In December, I wrote another column about how I am concerned about the state of live music in Bend after city code enforcement and permitting issues hindered a couple of venues and a few other venues significantly changed the focus of their bookings. “Too many obstacles to putting on shows,” I complained. “Not enough small to mid-sized places for small or mid-sized touring bands to play.”

I wouldn’t say things have gotten better in 2014. We’ve had a number of shows move from one venue to another at the last minute or cancel altogether because the hurdles set out by local agencies were too numerous or costly to overcome. The promising live-show space at Pakit Liquidators continues to fight — interminably, it seems — through its permitting issues. Blue Pine Kitchen and Bar (formerly the longstanding punk bar Players) has gone dark, and no one is saying when it will reopen. The old Liquid Lounge remains closed. A handful of bars and restaurants have stopped hosting live music because they don’t want to pay the licensing fees required to host live music by large, national organizations that represent the rights of songwriters.

In my opinion, it’s a bit bleak out there, with some exceptions.

I believe that if we want Bend to be a vibrant city with an array of cultural offerings that will not only serve locals (including those incoming college students) but also attract people who want to live in such a place, we need to be thinking proactively about creating places for that kind of city to bloom. As it is now, just about any kind of music venue outside the three-square-block downtown core is running into trouble with neighbors, nearby businesses and/or government agencies.

The vision for the MMA should include not only residential and retail concepts, but a robust plan for attracting and keeping cultural uses: art galleries, theaters, an indie moviehouse, practice spaces and studios, late-night gathering spots and, especially, given the potential for noise involved, places for all kinds of live music: soft and loud, sophisticated and low-brow.

There should be incentives for these kinds of uses so that potential business owners feel not only wanted in Bend, but also comfortable that they are in the right spot in town. And there should be clear zoning and permitted uses so they aren’t forced to look elsewhere the first time a nearby condo complex complains.

If we start on this kind of thing now, then hopefully we would soon see the seeds of a lively cultural district begin to fill in with what’s already there, clustered in a central location away from established residential areas.

I believe the creative energy and the patronage necessary for such a thing to work exists in Bend, and can grow. It just needs space to do so. Imagine walking down First or Second streets and passing by a jazz club and a rock ‘n’ roll bar and a DJ-powered dance spot among the cafes, pubs, bookstores and trinket shops. That’s the kind of place I want to live.

If you’ve read this far, maybe that’s the kind of place you want to live, too. And if you’re a musician looking for places to play in this town, I would implore you to consider your options and think about whether it’s worth reading up on the MMA plan, schlepping yourself to some meetings and getting involved in this effort for the future of Bend’s live-music scene.

The more of you that show up and speak your mind, the more likely it is the folks running this thing (and those who must approve it down the line) will listen.

— Reporter: 541-383-0377, bsalmon@bendbulletin.com