Parallel to the Market of Choice on Franklin Boulevard sits the old Romania Dealership: an oddly shaped, yet nondescript, white building. Since acquiring the property in 2007, the University of Oregon has mostly used the space for storage and parking; but in its heyday, it was heralded for it’s innovative mid-20th century design.
In November, Portland developer Project^ officially proposed a plan to renovate both the Romania Dealership and the surrounding property. The Portland firm responsible for the proposal plans to keep the old showroom intact, with its curved roof and long display windows, while building boutique hotels, apartments and a bevy of restaurants and shops around it.
Project^ has a long history with Eugene and UO. They own three buildings on campus and helped develop the K14 Apartments primarily used for student housing. Tom Cody, managing partner for Project^, has had his eye on the Romania property for quite some time.
“I helped the university acquire the property back in the early 2000s,” Cody said. “So suffice it to say, although in a very different context, that I have considered its potential for a while.”
The Romania dealership, known for being one of the first buildings you see upon entering Eugene from the Franklin Boulevard freeway exit, was first used as a Coca-Cola bottling plant, until the Romania dealership was built in 1960. The Romania family held onto the property until selling to the UO foundation, a non-profit group that raises money for the university, in 2005 for $5.2 million.
“The university decided it was not needed in their own growth plans and decided to look for a developer,” Cody said. “It’s obviously underutilized and holds the potential to be transformative for the university and the Franklin corridor.”
In July of 2018, UO received criticism from the community for what some thought was a hasty demolition of Hayward field without much consideration for historical preservation. While the Project^ proposal does plan on keeping the upswept roofs and large glass showroom, the original 1949 Coca-Cola bottling plant would be demolished to make way for the full redevelopment.
In 2011, the Romania Dealership was added to Oregon's National Register of Historical Places for its Googie-style architecture. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Googie, also known as “Doo Wop,” is characterized as being quintessentially 1950s. Large curvaceous structures with vivid use of glass, steel and neon coloring, encompassed the futurism felt in post-war America. Being featured on this list means that any drastic changes to the property would need to be kept to a minimum in order to preserve its historical significance.
According to Mike Harwood, campus planning and facilities manager for UO, the project would ideally be finished by 2021, in time for the IAAF World Track and Field Championships being hosted at the new Hayward field and stadium. Liz Carter, career instructor in UO’s architecture program, told the Emerald in July that a major reason the demolition of Hayward began so quickly was in order to be ready for this same event.
Harwood, who stresses the fact that negotiations with Project^ are still in early stages, is excited about the quality of the first proposal.
“What has impressed us about Project^ is not only the vibrancy and elegance of their designs, but the way they approach community and integrating with neighbors and neighborhoods,” Harwood said. “I think we'll see a space that allows people to live, work, shop and play, and that really complements the university environment.”
If the proposal goes through, construction could begin by the end of 2019.
“It'll be just like the other private projects that have happened in the area in the last few years,” Harwood said. “Construction vehicles and fencing will be part of the scenery during the build.”