A former Eugene mayor turned entrepreneur is at it again. Brian Obie is launching a new venture, that he hopes will cement his place as a hospitality magnate. KLCC’s Brian Bull reports.
Outside the Inn at 5th Street in Eugene, staff join Brian Obie for a ceremonial flag-raising.
“We’re gonna raise, for the first time…the flag for Obie Hospitality, that sets our course for the future.”
Obie Hospitality extends the former mayor’s efforts to revitalize the downtown. Other Obie Company ventures include the 5th Street Market and Inn at 5th Street.
Obie’s still working to secure permits for the area encompassing 6th Avenue and Oak and Pearl Streets as well. He expects to accomplish that, while developing his hospitality base.
“I expect we’ll build another hotel in Eugene, that is really first on our agenda," he tells KLCC.
"And then we will look for other locations while that process going on, that are in markets similar in size to Eugene and Boise that have a strong college aspect to them.”
The hospitality sector is one that thrives best during a strong economy, which Obie says is currently the case. But he says they’ll move carefully and steadily as a recession is always a concern.
WEB EXTRA: Hear an extended interview with Brian Obie on his "big dream" approach to economic development across Eugene and the Western U.S:
Transcript of conversation between KLCC's Brian Bull and Brian Obie:
Bull: First off, you’re 75 now, right?
Obie: That is correct, 75 years old.
Bull: So how much more planning and enterprising do you expect to do with the City of Eugene?
Obie: Well, my belief is, that…it took me a long time to learn, so I better utilize the knowledge that I got. We’re going to keep on going! That’s part of what establishing Obie Hospitality is about, I enjoy that business, and we’ll see that we’ll build more hotels, some of them close by, and of course the 5th Street Market is very much a hospitable business.
Bull: What’s your mantra or philosophy when it comes to pursuing your endeavors?
Obie: Well, I think we gotta have fun at it, ah…in terms of my personal involvement, we want to have to have something that is rewarding from a psychic standpoint, that we enjoy doing. That people that we serve, our customers and guests, come off in a very positive experience. We want to be very good at what we do, ah…we are not great risk takers but we will take the risk needed to grow that company, and we want to – here in Eugene – establish an area or continue to grow what we call the Market District, that will have even more significant retailers and perhaps (a) hotel, and apartments, etcetera. And really create a corner of town that’s very special.
Bull: We’re here now inside the Inn at 5th Street, and that’s adjacent to the 5th Street Market. Have both projects met your expectations so far?
Obie: They…both are…have exceeded our expectations. Inn at 5th, we were not sure what to expect, we’d not been in this business before, but it -- coupled with the Market -- just seemed to give it an extra shot if you will. Visitors love the Market, when they come to stay at the Inn at the 5th, they actually come back and stay because the Market’s part of the venue. And that has enhanced and strengthened 5th Street Market. There’s a synergistic aspect between the two, that’ll last a real long time.
Bull: So in a nutshell, let’s talk about today’s event: the flag raising for Obie Hospitality. Where’s this big idea headed to?
Obie: Well, it’s certainly a statement that we’re moving forward in hospitality business. That we are finding success, we are taking it very serious. We have, I think identified the region for success, try to move forward. And hopefully multiple communities across western United States over several years, and Obie Hospitality will be the management company, the flag if you will, that we’ll operate under.
Bull: Where do you expect to see Obie Hospitality in the next two to five years?
Obie: I expect we’ll build another hotel in Eugene, first on our agenda. And then we will look for other locations while that process is going on, in markets similar in size to Eugene and Boise with strong college aspect to them.
Bull: I understand that from a Register-Guard Article that you have until December of this year to secure permits for a site around 6th Avenue and Oak and Pearl Streets, as part of an expansion of your existing 5th Street enterprise. How is that faring?
Obie: I think we think we’ll meet that, I do understand that may be extended by a few months, just based on architectural engineering process that we’ll need to get through that city, but we’re going to be very close to that date.
Bull: While many business owners and city planners want Downtown Eugene to develop, build, and expand, the area is still coping with homelessness, addiction issues, and some crime activity. Is there any particular way to tackle one problem while still developing the other?
Obie: The homeless issue is significant in this community. Frankly, the derelict, requesting money on the corner, all those things that go with that are significant here. To some extent we are fortunate, we are not immune to that, but because it’s private property we can control what goes on. So that puts us quite a step away from Kesey Square as an example. On the other hand, my feeling about this community is that we need to address those things, we need to be stronger, we need to make sure those homeless really do need our help. And those that do, we really need to help them. And those that don’t need to move on be proactive and productive members of our society.
Bull: What do you consider your best achievement yet?
Obie: Oh wow, I’ve been…that’s all relative to what’s happened and what’s the significance of it. Certainly I’ve enjoyed being mayor, we’ve enjoyed developing this part of the world in a way that’s making a contribution to the community. Hopefully it’s something that people from outside the community are attracted to and come off more positive for Eugene. I don’t think I could pick a best achievement, unless it’s family activity, and having a family involved in the company. When I think about those things, I think it’s more a body of work, what have you done in your lifetime, and maybe my best one is yet to happen.
Bull: In terms of launching a hospitality industry, that's usually done when the economy is strong. Is it then your outlook that the economy in Oregon -and nationally- is robust again?
Obie: Certainly the economy today is excellent. And there are opportunities to take advantage of. On the other hand, there will be a recession in the future. I’ve probably gone through 3-5 of those in my lifetime. Clear those recessions. And that means keeping the risks relative to the opportunities, and be careful about the steps we take. I think everybody needs to anticipate that there’s a recession in future, plan for it, and deal with it on that basis.
Bull: Anything else to share, Brian, about today’s hospitality announcement or about development in Eugene?
Obie: Ah, if I was to share anything, it was a philosophy that we all need to believe in our dreams, and accomplish what we can with the precious life that we have.
Bull: Brian Obie, thank you so much for your time.
Obie: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright 2017, KLCC.