Eugene’s Downtown Riverfront Park reunited downtown and the river

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Decades after people started talking about reconnecting downtown Eugene with the Willamette River, that connection is complete.

“It gives me joy to see our downtown area reconnected to the beautiful Willamette River,” Mayor Lucy Vinis said Friday morning at the opening of Downtown Riverfront Park. “There is so much to say and share about this project so now I’m going to share another Woohoo!”

The 3-acre park, which stretches about a half-mile along the Willamette River between the DeFazio Bridge southeast of the former Eugene Water & Electric Board steam power plant and East Eighth Avenue, is a key element of the city’s plans to reseal downtown connect to the river and build a riverside neighborhood.

City workers, contractors and consultants spent years designing the park and then converting the former EWEB depot into green spaces, bike and pedestrian paths and river views.

Craig Carnagey, the city’s director of parks and open spaces, recalled riding his bike along the riverfront path as a 19-year-old University of Oregon student and thinking the property needed some work.

“The transition from driving along a green leafy riverbank to chain link fences, asphalt and industrial buildings was a bit stark,” he said.

Now the path runs through the park, along verdant rain gardens and parallel to a boardwalk with bronze artwork set into the walkway.

People in Eugene have wanted this and the downtown connection for some time, although it seemed far-fetched that the “Willamette to Willamette” connection was complete, City Manager Sarah Medary said.

“I can’t think of any other place in Eugene that people wanted to be more than here,” she said. “When people thought it was impossible, we did it. You did it.”

Emily Proudfoot, the city’s landscape architect and project manager for the park, “expressed her incredible gratitude to everyone who helped make this happen and happen properly.”

She added that the city’s work on the park is ongoing. In addition to the bronze work already installed, more is coming – an interpretive water fountain has yet to be installed at the lookout closest to the DeFazio Bridge.

There is also space connected to the park which is said to be a 1 hectare space. The city has received state dollars to fill a funding gap for the plaza that city officials had previously discussed reducing due to cost concerns.

The city is also still working on the development of the former steam power plant building, which Medary says is the next “impossible” project.

For the weekend, however, Eugene is celebrating the park’s opening to the public with dining and performances during a weekend-long grand opening.

The city and the Harmonic Laboratory are presenting a special artistic encounter program for the remainder of the weekend under the new Arts Pavilion, a structure with metal bands that mimic the topography of the riverbed and named SubSupra:

  • Saturday 12pm to 2pm
  • Sunday until 1 p.m

Groceries can be purchased from a variety of local vendors, including Most Wanted Espresso, O’my Mini Donuts, Sweetbay Shave Ice, and Sling-in Weiner.

Contact City Government Watchdog Megan Banta at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.

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