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The Observer Paper 12/22/14

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A few more noteworthy events of 2012

I would like to express my personal thanks to the La Grande Observer for its recent publication highlighting the events of 2012 in the “2012 Year-End Review” section published Monday, Dec. 31.

The special section captured many of the top stories of the year, especially local sporting highlights. So many wonderful things happened in our community last year, it would be impossible to list all of the events in one section. I’d like to offer another list of events, and given my professional perspective, these events are primarily of a community development or economic development nature.

• The Big H Streetscape project transformed the look of downtown. After years of planning by La Grande Main Street, City of La Grande staff and council and local engineering firm Anderson Perry & Associates, the
$1 million-plus urban renewal project officially got under way in early June. General contractor Mike Becker and his subcontractors worked diligently all summer and into the fall, culminating in a celebration held on Dec. 6. The project was a significant public investment in downtown La Grande with the goal to enhance the commercial and pedestrian environment of our historic downtown. Despite the disruption endured by very patient downtown businesses, early feedback indicates a desire for more improvements of this type to other areas of downtown.

 • IOOF building was rehabilitated. The 120-year-old IOOF building (aka “Renegade,” aka “Tropidara”) at 1106 Adams Ave. in downtown La Grande had been widely recognized as an eyesore for quite some time. Long-term vacancy and neglect, failing roofs, water damage, broken windows and pigeon infestation led to an unsafe building with negative value. The La Grande City Council, acting as the Urban Renewal Agency, took action in 2012, taking ownership of the building and applying for more than $230,000 in state environmental cleanup grants. The building was rehabilitated over the summer, saving an historic structure and alleviating the eyesore. The IOOF building is now being marketed for sale.

• La Grande Medical Center opened downtown. In early April, a small group of local physicians and investors transformed a historically vacant corner of Fourth and Jefferson downtown by opening the new La Grande Medical Center. The facility marked the first new construction project downtown since the ODS/ Cook Memorial Library complex and NK West apartment building projects of 2005. The clinic represented a $1.1 million shot in the arm to the downtown economy.

• The Riverside Pavilion was rebuilt. Following a devastating fire and immense community support, the iconic pavilion in La Grande’s Riverside Park was reopened to the public during a ceremony in early June. Arguably as good, if not better than the original, the new pavilion is a handsome addition to the community’s assets and is built to safely stand the test to time.

• Second Street was rebuilt and reopened. Following a 14-month closure due to a failing retaining wall, Second Street was reopened to the public officially at the end of June. The new and improved section of Second Street above and below the infamous “Second Street Hill” was literally met with cheers by the neighbors when the project was completed.

• Mountain Valley Therapy doubled in size. Another local medical facility bucking the down economy was locally owned Mountain Valley Therapy as it effectively doubled the size of its building and operations on Cove Avenue.

 • OTEC opened a newly expanded operations center in La Grande. After years of searching for a site to more efficiently combine its Union County operations, Oregon Trail Electric Consumer Cooperative decided to instead rebuild and expand its location on Cove Avenue. An open house/ribbon-cutting event was held for the public on June 11. The beautiful new building represents a significant local investment.

 • The Market Place was unveiled. Although not yet complete, The Market Place inside New Town Square (the former Montgomery Ward building) at Fourth and Washington in downtown La Grande was unveiled to the public for the first time during multiple events in the latter part of 2012. The combination business incubator/indoor shopping mall/business school learning laboratory/art center hopes to be fully open later in 2013. Meanwhile, the facility is available for tours, meetings and as an event space for local
non-profits.

 • EOU’s Pierce Library received a significant remodel. A bright and sunny new Pierce Library on the EOU campus was unveiled to the public
during Homecoming weekend in October.

 • Elkhorn Media was born. Last summer, Randy McKone brought KCMB 104.7 and KWRL 99.9 under the local ownership of the newly formed Elkhorn Media Group, separating from Capps Broadcast of Pendleton.

 • Urban forest grew downtown. The urban forest in downtown La Grande continued to grow in 2012. As a part of the Big H project and others, since 2009 an incredible 60 new trees
have been planted in downtown
La Grande.

 The above list is certainly not exhaustive nor all-inclusive. I’m confident I’ve also forgotten other important events of 2012. But the list above presents those events that I believe were significant to the community and are of interest to the readers of this newspaper. Here’s to more progress in 2013.

 

Charlie Mitchell is the community and economic development director for the City of La Grande.

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