Local efforts related to the Oregon Main Street Program will get a boost with the addition of an intern to the City of La Grande’s Community and Economic Development Department.
NEW MAN ON BOARD: Jason McNeil, of Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, recently joined the La Grande Community and Economic Development Department for an 11-month internship. He will concentrate mainly on implementation of the Oregon Main Street Program. - The Observer/BILL RAUTENTRAUCH
Jason McNeil, an intern from the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments project, came on board Sept. 21, joining a staff that includes Community and Economic Development Director Charlie Mitchell, Planner Mike Boquist and Planning Secretary Barbara Trick.
McNeil’s said his focus will mainly be on the Oregon Main Street Program, an initiative to improve the business environment downtown.
“The position is right up my alley,” McNeil said. “I started getting Oregon Main Street experience when I worked as an intern in Nyssa and Vale. I’m excited about La Grande because they’re at a stage where they’re starting to get things done.”
McNeil, 32, was born in Boston, but has lived in Oregon, mainly Portland, the past 11 years. In 2008, he graduated from Portland State University with a bachelor’s degree in community development.
While at PSU, he was active in the on-campus community development student group. He served one internship with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, and another in the City of Hillsboro planning department. He also wrote articles for the student newspaper, The Vanguard.
“I’ve always been kind of civic-minded, and I wanted a career where I’m involved in the community and making a difference,” he said.
He went to work for RARE after college, serving a one-year, combined internship at Nyssa and Vale. Following that, he decided to continue with RARE, applying for the La Grande position. His internship is funded by RARE, with a match from the city.
La Grande was one of 11 Oregon communities selected in 2008 to participate in the newly revamped Oregon Main Street program. The state program is affiliated with the National Trust Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.
The program’s approach encompasses work in four broad areas: organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. Local committees are appointed to keep efforts moving forward in those areas.
In La Grande, those committees are working in concert with the Community and Economic and Development Department and the Urban Renewal Agency to revitalize downtown.
So far, efforts have yielded a facade improvement grant program, bike racks for downtown, surveys of downtown businesses and Eastern Oregon University students, and a downtown traffic impact study.
But much work lies ahead, and Mitchell can use some help. McNeil said he will be helping smooth coordination among the committees and between the committees and the city.
“There’s all sorts of little projects coming up,” he said. “I’m trying to keep things running smooth, so they move along a little quicker.”
He said the design committee is currently working on a streetscape plan, and a proposal has been floated to build a pocket park on Elm Street.
Another thing McNeil is involved in at present is creation of La Grande Main Street, a new group that is oriented toward Oregon Main Street program goals and activities.
La Grande Main Street consists of members of the former La Grande Downtown Development Association, and new participants in the Oregon Main Street initiative.
“They’ve come together as one organization,” McNeil said. “It’s an exciting merger. Ultimately Oregon Main Street will be operating on its own, without the city’s help, and this is a step in that direction.”
His internship is for 11 months. He said he likes living in La Grande so far.
“It’s a nice town,” he said. “It’s a little bigger and there’s more going on. I like to hike and ride a mountain bike, and the recreational opportunities are pretty good as far as I can tell.”