By BRENNA VISSER The Bulletin
The only thing Paul Israel regrets about moving his solar energy business into the Bend Central District is the fact that he wasn’t able to do it sooner. “I’m ready to go,” Israel said.
Just a few weeks ago, Israel, the president of Sunlight Solar Energy, broke ground on his company’s new headquarter building at 150 NE Hawthorne Ave. The longtime Bend-based business installs solar panels in seven states.
The 14,000-square-foot building marks a major milestone as one of the first projects to break ground within the Bend Central District since new development rules were adopted in 2016.
New code requirements for the district — which spans east of U.S. Highway 97 over to Fourth Street — were adopted nearly four years ago in a bid to promote higher density and more mixed use development. The idea is to make what is currently a car-dependent area more walkable, like a downtown, where people can live, work and shop all in the same area.
The vision for the district has been around for years, but redevelopment in the area has been slow.
Israel, as well as advocates for the vision for the central district, see the Sunlight Solar Energy project as the possible catalyst to get more development going in the area.
“It’s a risk, but it also feels good to be the pioneer over there,” Israel said. “There’s a lot of energy being directed toward the Bend Central District, and a lot of wait-and-see attitude. ... This might be an exponential move toward the future.”
After moving to his current property on Scott Street several years ago, Israel began looking for a new location within the central district. He liked the vision of being in an area of town being reimagined to prioritize walking and biking.
In 2016, he bought the land on Hawthorne Avenue, and began to design the building. At the request of the city, Israel said he changed the design to set the building right against the street front to better accomplish the goal of the central district.
The company is also planning for about half of the space to be leased out in chunks between 500- and 5,000-square-feet, which fits into the central district’s goal to have higher density development.
The building will also be net zero, meaning it will produce as much energy it consumes.
“To show that you can build 15,000 square feet net-zero is a wonderful showcase for the community,” Israel said. “We can build a building that creates the energies it uses.”
Moey Newbold, an urban planner for the land use advocacy group Central Oregon LandWatch, hopes the new construction will mark the beginning of other developers being interested in this part of town.
“People are going to start to see (that) things are happening there, which can start to drive other people to want to invest in the area and realize that it’s going to develop in the future,” Newbold said. “Having the additional employees, they are going to need lunch and coffee. ... You have some food options (in the BCD), but I think there’s definitely going to be a market for those employees to want to walk down the block and grab a sandwich.”
But barriers still remain. On Monday, the Bend planning commission will consider a proposal that changes parking standards and relaxes a rule that calls for buildings to have both commercial and residential use.
But for Israel, it’s reinvigorating to feel like the vision he fell in love with is starting to come to fruition.
“It’s not a generation away,” Israel said. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. ... it’s our time.”