A one-time countercultural corner has new agenda for growth

If Oregon as a whole has had, in the eyes of the business community, a certain image problem - a reputation for being dominated by the Granola and Earth Shoes set - that goes double here in Eugene.

Seat of the University of Oregon, Eugene was a countercultural center during the '60s and '70s. And rumors fly that the people in Eugene just passed an ordinance saying that no one could cut down a tree in town without ''a vote of the populace'' first.

But Eugene, which is a timber- and agriculture-related industrial center as well as a college town, is tuning in to economic development.

And the new mayor-elect, businessman Brian B. Obie, is claiming broad support for the new agenda: ''I got 65 percent of the vote in a five-way election, and I ran on a community-renaissance, economic-diversity platform,'' he says. ''The community has bought into it.''

An important feature of the new economic agenda is the Metropolitan Economic Partnership, officially launched Tuesday; this is an industrial marketing and recruitment effort involving chamber of commerce and other local officials in Eugene and the adjacent town of Springfield.

Other development efforts center on making the most of the university connection and of Eugene's promixity (''One hour by air'') to Silicon Valley. Mr. Obie says he can't fault state officials for focusing on enticing Japanese companies into Portland. ''But we don't expect the Portland boom to impact Eugene. We have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.''

And what about that tree ordinance? The mayor-elect confirms that an ordinance has been passed - but it applies only to trees more than 50 years old within Eugene's original 1915 city limits and in danger of being removed for a street widening. At the next election there will be a vote on the six trees whose planned removal sparked the ordinance in the first place. ''I expect that they'll tie red ribbons around the six trees, and yellow ones around the other trees - you know, like the song - and everyone will have a look before the vote, '' Mr. Obie says good-naturedly. In a more serious tone, he says, ''The city council opposed the referendum (to pass the ordinance); I think we would be better off without it, but it will not materially affect us.

''After all,'' he adds, ''when a company comes here to consider building a plant, they don't talk about our streets; they talk about our trees.''

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