By Christian Hill

The Register-Guard (Eugene)

Eugene’s Town Square project is coming together. City officials recently unveiled the near-complete preferred design to restore the city’s central gathering place by unifying the new City Hall with a year-round farmers market and improved Park Blocks, downtown’s largest public space.

“We’re trying to make it easier for more people to use the space, and that goes a long way to make it more active,” said Will Dowdy, project manager for the city.

Preliminary estimates from the design team have pegged Town Square’s price tag at a minimum of $14 million. That figure doesn’t include the cost for a new City Hall, the project’s most expensive component.

In the mid-19th century, Eugene city founders donated land to establish a central square for the new city with the county courthouse in its center.

But that vision eroded when community leaders pushed the courthouse away from the square’s center and broke the space into quadrants by extending Eighth Avenue and Oak Street through it.

The northwest quadrant was effectively lost decades ago when the county constructed the two-level “butterfly” parking lot atop it.

This project would demolish the parking lot to restore the northwest quadrant and build a roughly 9,000-square-foot arched pavilion to serve as the year-round home of the Lane County Farmers Market.

To the north would sit an about 30,000-square-foot City Hall. Few details about that building, which has been a source of community debate and controversy for years, were released with the Town Square design.

The Park Blocks, the two southern quadrants of the historic square, would receive major facelifts.

The concept plan replaces the landmark Park Blocks fountain on the southwest quadrant with a splash pad that, when wet, provides a cool-off spot for kids, and, when dry, more event space.

The iconic salmon sculpture will be installed elsewhere in Park Blocks, Dowdy said.

The changes provide “something more usable and something more 21st century,” he said.

On the southeast corner, the plans calls for a large, covered stage to replace the covered shelter now on-site. Also included is an information kiosk.

The plan calls for the use of concrete patterns and pavers and the removal of curbs in an effort to join the quadrants together.

The Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, on the northeast quadrant, will remain unchanged.

The city-contracted design team created the draft final concept design after soliciting public comments when it released three preliminary concepts in July.

Public sentiment was strongest about preserving trees and planting new ones, providing more lawn and adding the splash pad, as well as restrooms and storage to the market pavilion so those elements were added to final conceptual design.

The design team will review additional public comment from Thursday’s event and may make tweaks before presenting the final concept to the City Council on Oct. 30.

Cost estimates of the three preliminary conceptual designs ranged from $14 million to $24 million, again excluding the price tag for City Hall. City spokeswoman Lindsay Selser said the cost estimates for the draft conceptual design won’t be available until the City Council presentation, she said.

“Balancing opportunities with financial realities is one of the foundations of this project, and since July, we’ve been working with the design team to right-size the proposal, and it will be something that we continue to review throughout the course of the project,” Selser said.

Most of the people who commented on the trio of preliminary designs favored elements that drove the cost up, she said.

The city set aside up to $4 million for a farmers market pavilion and up to $5.2 million for Park Blocks improvements when it extended the life of the area’s urban renewal district three years ago. Other funding options could include grants and donations.

The city has about $10 million set aside in a City Hall replacement fund.

The city hired a project manager, the firm Shiels Obletz Johnsen, to shepherd Town Square through the early design work.

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