Leaving Their Mark: Florence Mayor Candidates Joshua Greene and Rob Ward
Oct. 14, 2022 — For both City of Florence mayoral candidates Rob Ward and Joshua Greene, it was Wilbur Ternyik, one of Florence’s most influential politicians, who helped shaped their political careers.
“Wilbur is probably one of the reasons I ended up being the mayor of Florence,” Ward said. “Because he asked, he actually asked me if I would run for mayor. … That was one of the biggest notches in my belt, winning that election. And it wasn't so much that I won, it was who I competed against, because I had incredible respect for both people.”
Greene considers Ternyik a mentor.
“He broke it down and explained to me how things work at the local level, or how they can work at the local level,” Greene said. “I was so grateful to get his help and support. He continued to support me along the way, because I called him up and checked in. … He gave me his opinion. I didn't always agree with it, but it would always help take it into consideration. It would help mold the direction that I was going in.”
While Ward and Greene may have some differing views on the approach they take, there are many attributes they share, including contributions to many Florence resident’s daily lives.
From a park and stage to a downtown hub and local art, both candidates have helped leave a mark on the City of Florence.
Centered in the middle of the city, Miller Park is known for the place to go for an Easter Egg Hunt, a baseball game, a ride on some swings, a jump in the skate park, or a walk around the walking path.
According to Ward, “That property was donated by a man named George Melvin Miller, who was a philanthropist in the area. He donated that land to the city with the caveat that it be used as a park. Well, it didn't get used as a park. So the city realized they needed to create a park to offset the development that they did.”
Ward was chairman of the park’s steering committee.
“We went and found the descendant of George Melvin Miller. And I asked her if it was okay to put his name on this park. And she said yes. And that's where the name came from.”
When it came time to build the park, the land itself was only partially cleared, done for a drive-in-theater that had gone out of business by the time the park was created. So the first job was clearing the rest of the land.
“It was all volunteers,” Ward said. “We had people bringing equipment in on weekends. And we were the weekend warriors in clearing.”
Ward was able to borrow a CAT that he could use on the weekend, as long as he had it back by the start of Monday. Others used backhoes to clear the area.
“And then we spent probably a year and a half picking up sticks,” Ward said. “We had our stick pickup parties, because there were a lot of sticks left in the sand as a result of clearing, as you can imagine — just stuff that doesn't get picked up by the bigger pieces of equipment.”
Ward remembered seeing 20 kids on their Saturdays picking up sticks.
“And it was really cool. There were a lot of people involved,” he said.
By the time it came down to laying pipe for the irrigation system, a local phone company had donated funds for the project. But they didn’t have sprinkler heads.
Ward remembers Anna Morrison, who was “very much a part of the Miller Park group,” putting together a campaign to have the community buy the sprinkler heads. Even Ward bought one.
“The very first baseball game that was played at Miller Park was played between the Miller Park steering committee people, all the people that worked on Miller Park, and the phone company,” Ward said. “It was just a slow pitch game. They came over on a weekend and helped us install all the underground irrigation stuff. Plus they made the donation so we had this baseball game. That was the first game at Miller Park.”
Nestled in the heart of Old Town with a clear view of the river, the Siuslaw River Bridge Interpretive Center hosts the city’s Christmas tree lighting, community block parties and thousands of tourists who visit each year.
“It’s one of our gems,” Greene said. “I think it's a go-to place, a rallying point. Anytime I have friends that come to town, I walk Bay Street and I take them to the Interpretive Center. Anytime we have an activity, we have a block party, where is it? Opposite the entire Interpretive Center.”
For tourists, it’s the place to hang out for the best view of the bridge.
“A place to be proud of, and a place that shows, you know what, with the crazy world out there, this community did something terrific,” Greene said.
Greene, who sat on a committee in 1998 ad-hoc committee called the Downtown Plan, said the center was one of the primary projects.
“But it came with a mandate, because the money was $458,000, and it was coming through the feds through ODOT,” Greene said. “And the mandate in the history of Oregon is, federal money is only spent on federal land.”
The only land available?
“Under Highway 101, literally under the bridge,” Greene said. “And the original design started with a platform coming out from the south, a platform coming out from the north, all under the bridge with a deck.”
For years, the committee looked at designs on how to make it work, making it wider, bigger.
“And one day I was walking along the edge of the river, middle to low tide, taking pictures with all the pilings sticking up and there's the bridge with the dune in the background and the light,” Greene said. “And I was looking at this and I'm looking at the land to the right, which was privately owned.”
The spot would become the future location of the Interpretive Center.
“I went to my next meeting and I said we were wrong,” Greene said. “This doesn't make any sense. What makes sense is for the interpretive center to be on that land, looking down river. It's beautiful. It's perfect. It's the place and, what would it take to do it?”
A lot, from completely redesigning the concept to concerns about ODOT refusing the project.
“It took another year or so to get everybody's alignment amongst us,” Greene said.
The city ended up purchasing the property, and negotiated with ODOT to still get the funds.
“Then we raised additional funds from grants, and, lo and behold, you have what you have today, which is the last piece of property along the river's edge in Old Town, now protected forever,” Greene said. “To me, that was an effort that took everybody. But it was based on knowing what's right. And that is what brought people together.”
Florence Events Center (FEC)
“I was on the city council, for starters,” Ward said. “The planning for the FEC started back in about 1984, 85. And it's interesting because I ended up being the chairman of the Florence Events Center planning group, we call it the steering committee.”
The 455-seat FEC holds hundreds of events and meetings per year, including out-of-town entertainers, local theater groups and weekly meetings of Rotary, to name a few.
But even getting an idea of what it should look like was an issue.
“We had some interesting times, you know,” Ward said. “It's always fun to bring people together and try to figure out how to make something happen.”
The city originally hired an architect from Portland to design the center.
“At that time, we kept struggling with the concept,” Ward said. “How do you make a flat floor perform as a theater? And how do you make a theater perform as a flat floor? We struggled with that quite a bit.”
The architect’s design had taken inspiration from the old Safeway building and the arches on the bridge.
“So their concept was some kind of a Quonset hut looking theater,” Ward said. “Well, that didn't fly with us. At some point in time, if something's not right, you need to walk away from it. And so we did.”
So they decided to visit other cities and see what they were doing.
“That's one of the things that Florence does — at least all the time I've been involved in Florence — we reach out to other communities see what they're doing, and try to pick the best out of what they're up to that fits Florence,” Ward said.
The first went to a theater in California, a 300-seat theater and then in a separate building, 6,000-foot flat floor.
“And we asked them, ‘What would you do different?’ And they said, ‘Well, 300 seats is too small.’ They said it really needs to be 450 seats,’” Ward said.
They then drove to a theater in Klamath Falls, which had a 900-seat theater and no convention center connected to it.
“They said, ‘Well, 900 seats is not the right size. We're too big for small and too small for big,’” Ward said. “They said, ‘You either need 2,500 seats, or you need to be 450 seats.’”
A 450-seat theater seemed to be the perfect size, but they still didn’t know about the flat floor.
They then made their way down to Winnemmucca, Nev., which had a flat floor that they liked so much it became the basis of the FEC’s flat floor. Ward, Rich Terry, Tom Grove and another man sat down to work it out.
“You know, we're never going to make a flat floor a performance theater and we're never going to make a theater perform as a flat floor,” the fourth man said. “We don't know how we're going to pay for it. But we’ve got to go for the gold.”
Terry grabbed a square piece of paper and he sketched out a theater and a flat floor.
“And that's when we decided, that's what we're going to build,” Ward said.
The paper sketch is currently framed and hanging in the FEC.
Public Art Committee (PAC)
The Art Exposed Project is rotating a gallery of new art pieces this year, with spaces near the in Historic Old Town and various points across the city.
Greene listed PAC, both the art it creates and the committee itself, as one of his favorite accomplishments.
While he helped create PAC, he doesn’t believe art should be the city’s top priority.
“I'm not saying it should be, so I don't want to be misunderstood about my passion for art,” he said.
Around 12 years ago, Greene was a facilitator for a local leadership class with The Ford Family Foundation.
“In one of those brainstorming sessions, we were asked to come up with an idea of what you think would be fantastic and Florence. And it hit me — a public art program,” he said.
His vision was an outdoor museum, “with sculptures and murals everywhere, and things changing.” Early plans had pieces up and down Highway 101, with murals painted across the city. They were based on studies PAC had conducted, connecting with other cities who had public art.
“If we could create a certain language that when people think of Florence — it's not just a retirement community, they’ve got a fantastic art program,” Greene said. “Let's go spend the weekend and camp there and spend some time and go see the art, let's drive to the coast on a hot summer day from the valley and go see the art in Florence.”
Greene believes that a full-fledged program could bring more people to the community.
“People might be driving through or come visit, or be brought here by family. They say, ‘I'm an artist, I want to move here, I want to create a gallery or do whatever it is.’ And I think that that helps balance out our economy.”
The city council approved the plans of the PAC, and Greene became the council ex-officio. Subcommittees of two or three people spread the work.
“Because we wanted to get so much done in a short period of time, subcommittees became the solution,” Greene said. “So every time we'd meet once a month, they had already done work on one or two things. We would get work done much faster, it became very exciting. And city staff was excited. That's why PAC was such a success for me, because I learned how to speed up the bureaucratic process by having subcommittees.”
For both candidates, Florence has been the tapestry on which they’ve made a difference, with several large projects still in use today.