Whiteaker faces controversial shift due to rise in business and booze
By Gina Ginsberg
“I thought it was the apocalypse or something,” said former Whiteaker resident, Samantha Prichard.
Sparks illuminated the street followed by a pulsing beeping and flashing lights. Samantha Pritchard peered out her bedroom window onto West Third Avenue. What woke her up almost one year ago at three in the morning was not an air strike, but damage from a Ninkasi delivery truck that had hit a street lamp resulting in a full day power outage of the immediate area.
That was one of several incidents Prichard faced while living on the residential strip referred to as ‘Blair Island’. “And they are not apologetic to their neighbors,” Prichard said about the brewery. The former Whiteaker resident now lives in a quiet section of Santa Clara.
Ninkasi, the ringleader of big business in the neighborhood, bought the land across the street from Prichard followed by Izakaya Meiji. Blair Island was then sandwiched amongst commercial property. “It got rowdy and out of control. We could hear all of the action over the TV,” Prichard said.
The success of Ninkasi has brought mixed feelings to the people of the Whiteaker due to their immense physical presence, the streets smelling like hops, but also because of the people they attracted from outside the neighborhood. Prichard said that after they expanded, it started to have a more corporate feel, and that many of the regulars stopped going. “A lot of people come from outside of the neighborhood and take pictures to see how hippies live. It’s tourists, people coming to see a freak show.”
Before the major changes, Prichard lived in the Whiteaker for more than ten years and loved it. She is the lead singer in a rock band, and thrived living in a unique community of artists. It was affordable, but still close to downtown, and she worked two blocks away at Sam Bond’s Garage. There may be a transformation in the neighborhood, as others like Prichard decide to leave. “I left feeling like I was pushed out, and I know others who moved because of the same reasons,” Prichard said.
Some loyal locals also resent Ninkasi’s involvement as a sponsor in The Whiteaker Block Party. Many long time residents feel like they are not included, and that the Whiteaker Block Party has been branded by Ninkasi. A rival party was created called the Whiteaker People’s Party and takes place throughout the duration of the block party in Tiny Tavern’s parking lot. They have their own performance stage, and people voice their opinions about Ninkasi and the economic development in the Whiteaker.
Another criticism neighbors have on the presence of big breweries in the neighborhood is that wealthier people drinking are seen as targets for crime. Will Larson, a homeowner in the Whiteaker since 2005, said “There is still a stigma that it is a dangerous neighborhood with a large homeless population.”
Due to the proximity of Willamette River, the Eugene Mission, and a general tolerance in the neighborhood, there are more homeless people in the Whiteaker than other residential neighborhoods. However, there is not necessarily a correlation between homelessness, crime, and bourgeois drinking.
Ninkasi’s tasting room manager Zoe Gadsby who lives in the Whiteaker said that any change in crime has not occurred because of Ninkasi. In fact, she thinks Ninkasi has influenced positive change in the neighborhood, and attributes the restoration of housing to Ninkasi “I think poor people just feel more poor, and old hippies like to complain about change.”
According to crime reports from the Eugene Police department, street robbery has increased in the Whiteaker by 171 percent, while it has decreased in other neighborhoods in Eugene, including the West University neighborhood by 25 percent.
The Tiny Tavern, Eugene’s second oldest bar has a bad reputation for being a dive, and adds to people’s perception that the Whiteaker is a dangerous neighborhood. Manager at the Tiny Tavern, Jevon Peck said that Ninkasi is not the only place in the neighborhood that is doing renovations, and that the tavern has made a lot of improvements. “We kicked out the drug dealers, and cleaned up,” Peck said. He said that the renovations are taking place separate from any influence from Ninkasi. “Ninkasi is not a positive or negative influence in the Whiteaker, it is just another business,” said Peck.
Historically, Whiteaker was home to anarchists and other left wing political groups who were dedicated to keeping the Whiteaker a low rent neighborhood, and a community that embraces artists and a mixture of counter culture values. In prior decades, Whiteaker enthusiasts quickly thwarted new businesses that locals deemed too ritzy for the area.
In 1998, during large waves of California migration to Oregon, BMWs were starting to congregate along the commercial streets of Whiteaker. A Mediterranean seafood café opened up near where Prichard’s house was on Blair Island. Their windows were constantly being broken, posted with messages saying “gentrifying scum.” There was a notice posted for neighbors to see that read: “Resist the urge not to litter. The health and diversity of our neighborhood depends on it.” Needless to say, the Mediterranean café did not last long.
Eugene is becoming a city known for it’s microbrews. After Ninkasi’s success in the neighborhood, other local breweries want a piece of the Whiteaker pie, too. Within the next year, Oakshire, and Hops Valley are moving in and expanding their facilities into the area, and Whiteaker will seen as the brewery district in Eugene.
City Council representative for the ward 7, the Whiteaker, Claire Syrett does not think the Whiteaker is changing demographically and that new breweries will be positive for the community, and will support locally manufactured products and bring jobs to the area. The Whiteaker is “a place that wants to keep its character and discourages gentrification,” Syrett said. There are a lot of large apartment buildings in the Whiteaker that Syrett says will always be affordable for those who want to continue to live in the Whiteaker, although apartments are more likely to have turnover. “I think it’s exciting to have a business cluster here. It compliments the creative, cutting-edge character of the Whiteaker,” Syrett said.
Property values for homeowners in the Whiteaker may have remained the same, but the price of rent has climbed at a consistent rate in recent years despite the bad economy. Tim Straub, owner of Acorn Property Management said that he has raised the rent on his Whiteaker properties because he knows it is a desirable neighborhood, and people will pay more to live there. He attributes the popularity to people enjoying the eclectic feel of bars like Ninkasi and Sam Bond’s.
The potential problems Syrett addressed with the breweries relocating to the Whiteaker were parking, and intoxication, but that there would be greater police presence in the area. Syrett thinks that more business will be beneficial against crime because more activity in the area will discourage bad behavior.
However, police reports show there to be an increase in charges that could be alcohol related. disorderly conduct, and DUI convictions in the neighborhood in the past year.
Gadsby said that Ninkasi was contacted by Hop Valley who suggested that they conduct joint brewery tours, but she does not support the idea. She is concerned that it will bring promote heavy drinking rather than the enjoyment of good beer. “Ninkasi is for the love of beer, Hop Valley is doing it for the money.” She said that Ninkasi is distinguished from other breweries in that it treats its employees well, and supports the community by hosting fundraisers for non-profits. “Ninkasi did not intend to start a brewery district in the Whiteaker and “I worry about what it will mean in the future.”
A Slide show of neighborhood changes created by Gina Ginsberg: Breweries coming to the Whiteaker may mean change in the community for this historical neighborhood.
Q&A With Debra Merskin
Journalism professor Debra Merskin, of the University of Oregon teaches classes in gender and diversity. Merskin defines gentrification and outlines the consequences it can have on the urban population in Eugene
Q: How would you define gentrification?
A: The displacement of people of lower incomes.
Q: What sort of change occurs with urban development?
A: Change due to urban development in a neighborhood is almost unavoidable. What are called “improvements” is really moving people out.
Q: Who are the ones usually affected?
A: People of color and the homeless. Often times when public areas are “improved” it affects the homeless, and homeless teens.
Q: How can there be a push to get people to move back to urban areas in Eugene?
A: Because the LCC routes are changing, the aging population may be looking to live closer to downtown and their regular activities. For example, the luxury condos in Crescent Village were unsuccessful because they were far out, and too fancy for potential buyers.
Background on the unique Neighborhood:
(Courtesy of KEZI)