January 11, 2016
High-rise apartment complex to displace Ken Kesey statue and the park that hosts it
by Kait Howard
A statue of the 1960s-era writer Ken Kesey in Eugene, Oregon, is in danger of being displaced by a high-rise apartment complex, and some locals are livid.
The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Pilon reports that the plan by a group of real-estate developers to purchase a public park that houses a bronze statue of Kesey reading to a trio of rapt listeners has prompted widespread debate.
According to Pilon, the developers, led by Greg Brokaw of the architecture firm Rowell Brokaw, have put their proposal before the Eugene Chamber of Commerce to acquire the park and build an apartment building and retail space in its place. A vote is scheduled for January 15. Under the proposal, the statue of Kesey, the Merry Prankster famed for his novels—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion—as well as his penchant for psychedelics, would be “moved to a smaller corner, still accessible 24 hours a day.”
But the statue of Kesey has come to symbolize a larger debate in Eugene over the city’s character and the value of public spaces. “Even the name [of the park] can’t be agreed upon,” writes Pilon. “It is called Kesey Square by those in favor of keeping the lot a public space and Broadway Plaza by those favoring the apartment building.”
The developers, who could receive a 10-year tax exemption “designed to stimulate growth,” say that the proposed apartments will lure technology workers in the region, but opponents, who according to Pilon include “prominent members of the Occupy Eugene movement” say it’s not worth losing a community space used for outdoor concerts, movie screenings, and “friendly bouts of dodgeball.”
“Building a high-rise over a groovy section of town just doesn’t feel like the first Eugenian answer,” Kesey’s son, Zane, told Pilon, standing beneath the beloved sculpture of his father.
According to Camilla Mortensen at Eugene Weekly, Ali Emami, a vocal opponent of the proposal and owner of property across the street from the park, laments that “Kesey is part of Eugene’s unique culture…and that’s something the city should be building on, not tearing down.”
He’s no Mega Mao, but the Kesey statue may just help galvanize Eugene’s disgruntled citizens.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.