La Grande’s Oregon Main Street program took tangible strides toward downtown improvement last Wednesday, awarding two grants for improvements of building facades.
in for a facelift: The Anthony Building, located at 1118 Adams Ave. and owned by Mary McCracken, will get facade improvements thanks to a $6,400 grant awarded by the Main Street Program. Observer photo/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
The City of La Grande had $14,000 in state and local funds available, and gave it out during the Main Street Program’s semi-annual meeting at Cook Memorial Library.
“These two restoration projects will be very noticeable in downtown La Grande,” said La Grande Community and Economic Development Director Charlie Mitchell. “It is our hope they will be the first of many facade improvement projects.”Mary McCracken will receive a grant of $6,400 toward a $9,815 project to improve the facade of the Earth N Book storefront, known historically as the Anthony Building.
Bobbi Bowler will receive $7,378 of grant funding toward an $11,180 project to improve the facade of the Bryan & Dunphy Building, which formerly housed J.C. Penney and Mamacita’s.
The City of La Grande received 12 building facade improvement project proposals that were scored by the
La Grande Main Street Design Committee and the La Grande Landmarks Commission.
The projects were discussed and deliberated during a two-hour public meeting held on June 8.
Mitchell said there will be local funding available to assist with funding the remainder of the submitted projects that were not selected for this current round of funding.
He added he expects the city to formally roll out its own facade improvement program in the coming weeks
The grant awards were announced as Main Street activists and members of the public met to assess progress made since the program kicked off last February. The La Grande Main Street Program is a part of the Oregon Main Street initiative.
Among other items on the agenda, members of the Organization, Design, Promotion and Economic Restructuring Committees gave progress reports.
Carol Campbell of the Organization Committee reported that a Main Street Program vision statement had been formulated.
Campbell also said a map showing the Main Street Program’s geographic boundaries had been approved. The map delineates both a central business zone and the area called “greater downtown.”
Though progress has been made in the program, Campbell reminded people at the meeting that downtown revitalization is a long, painstaking process.
“Remember, this is a longtime thing we’re involved in. This isn’t something that gets established and turns around overnight,” she said.
Katie Boula, design committee chair, said design elements from the city streetscape plan formulated in 1998 may be considered for the Main Street program.
Boula said a subcommittee is studying possibilities for short-term improvements in lighting, street furniture, trash receptacles and other design components.
She said there are immediate plans to install bike racks downtown. The racks will sport a distinctive design.
“We’re trying to incorporate some art work, so they don’t look so utilitarian,” she said. “You should start seeing them in the next couple of months.”
Under long-term projects, Boula said the committee is exploring the possibility of the city acquiring the Union Pacific railroad depot.
She said the building, which is currently being used by UP, could be restored, and possibly house a museum and some retail businesses.
A report from John Winn, chair of the economic restructuring committee, highlighted efforts to assess downtown’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We’re the information gatherers,” Winn said.
He said his committee developed a survey to be sent to all downtown business locations. The survey is designed to help the committee gain an understanding of individual businesses and the challenges they face.
The survey, which was mailed this week, is accompanied by a cover letter and also a brochure detailing Main Street services and resources.
Winn said the committee plans to make every effort to convince businesses owners to complete the survey. He said members will call at businesses to pick up the survey.
“We’ve got to be as aggressive as possible in getting this information,” he said.
Winn said he recently canvassed downtown and determined that there are 168 businesses, including government and non-government offices.
Four businesses have plans to close or move out of the downtown area in the near future, and about a half dozen others are keeping short hours.
He said there is a 17 percent vacancy rated when comparing open shops to empty ones. That is substantially higher than the national average.
“We’ve got some work to do there,” he said.
Winn said attracting new businesses is a worthy goal, but added it is important to recognize so-called anchor businesses that have been in the downtown core for years.
“Even though we’re trying to develop new businesses, we’re glad those anchors are here,” he said.
Kelly McGee, representing the promotion committee, said efforts are under way to strengthen ties between the downtown area and Eastern Oregon University.
The promotion committee is working on a host of other initiatives as well, McGee said.
In a work session following the committee reports, committee members discussed overlapping projects, ways of coordinating efforts, committee needs and more.
Also, committee members reviewed a reconnaissance visit report compiled by consultants from the Oregon Office of Economic and Community Development. The visit was conducted in early February.
In still more business, “Friends of Main Street” awards were given to The Observer and Wayla Chadwick of Joe and Sugar’s.