Meet in the Middle: City proposes compromise with Crow’s Feet Commons

Photo by Matt Fox
Photo by Matt Fox
By Erin Rook, Source Weekly

When the Source first reported last week that the City of Bend would not renew Crow’s Feet Commons’ lease on the 500 square feet of Mirror Pond Plaza adjacent to the historic building it also leases from the City, the public outcry caught owner David Marchi by surprise.

“Public reaction has been quite impressive. I thought that people would voice their concerns, but it’s pretty crazy how the story has spread like wildfire,” Marchi says. “I think that there has been some general sentiment toward the City on a number of levels and this boiled people’s blood beyond what I expected.”

And officials at the City took notice. Initially engaging with concerned residents via Twitter on Thursday night and Friday morning, even encouraging an individual to “call city hall tomorrow and we’d be happy to explain the things the Sourcedidn’t report,” the City released a memo Friday afternoon from Special Projects Director Brad Emerson to City Manager Eric King detailing the City’s response to community members’ vocal concerns and a plan of action to find a middle ground with Crow’s Feet Commons.

“It’s clear from the widespread community response that the Mirror Pond Plaza (Plaza) is a highly valued gathering place for the community, and many people value the up-change associated with Crow’s Feet Commons (CFC) leasing of the historic Rademacher House,” the memo begins. “As in any relationship that has expectations beyond a normal business/cash partnership there are some areas that haven’t worked as expected, by both CFC and the City of Bend.”

The memo goes on to detail the ways in which the City has supported Crow’s Feet Commons establishing a successful business, such as subsidizing the rent on the building and bundling special event permits to reduce fees. It also outlines the City’s concerns regarding compliance with the lease on the Rademacher House, which include the subleasing of the plaza space. Marchi says he takes issue with the alleged violations.

City Manager Eric King says the decision was a matter of fairness. Crow’s Feet Commons’ lease on the plaza had expired in December 2013, and to add a new lease when the business wasn’t holding up its end of the deal on the building didn’t seem right.

“As outlined in the memo, there were compliance issues with the current [Rademacher House] lease,” King says. “Taxpayers expect that we treat people fairly.”

Still, King and other City staff recognize that Crow’s Feet is doing some things well and hopes to capitalize on its success in the public square—but without issuing a new lease.

“Moving forward, we would like to work with CFC to continue programming positive activities in the Plaza,” Emerson writes in the memo. He adds that the City plans to continue issuing Crow’s Feet Commons a “blanket permit,” to consider a sidewalk café permit to allow for some additional outdoor seating, and to invite the business to participate in the recently formed Downtown Livability Group, which is focused on coming up with a comprehensive solution to problems with anti-social activity in public spaces.

While Marchi says he would prefer to have time to continue with his vision for the plaza, he’s open to a compromise.

“I would love to be able to continue to create, to give it more time,” Marchi says. “Just like my business growing, it takes multiple years to see [the plaza] grow.”

Ultimately though, King says, the decision to lease a portion of the plaza was something of an experiment, and he believes that the overall goal of improving downtown livability may be better achieved by other means.

“I think the issues regarding the plaza and overall livability of downtown needs to be looked at from a multifaceted perspective,” King says, adding that no single factor is the be-all, end-all solution.

Marchi met with City staff last week and will meet again to discuss a path forward on Friday.