The Oregon Main Street Program is alive, well and moving ahead in downtown La Grande, and the city council wants the public to know it.
The logo selected by Oregon Main Street Program committee members to mark a variety of downtown promotional materials.
During a work session Monday, councilors agreed that people won’t come to believe in the program and its effectiveness unless tangible improvements start showing up.
So look for bike racks and other amenities to start showing up soon.“It’s going to go well for the project if there are things people can see,” said Councilor Steve Clements.
The Main Street Program is a state initiative that provides assistance to communities hoping to revitalize their central business areas. It operates in conjunction with the National Main Street Program administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Last October, Gov. Ted Kulongoski selected 10 cities for participation, including La Grande. Since then, local committees have been appointed to deal with organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring issues.
There’s no shortage of ideas, and there’s some money to play with, too. The city council, which also acts as the city’s urban renewal agency, approved $229,000 for Main Street Program activities this fiscal year.
That includes $50,000 allocated for downtown facade improvement grants, and $55,000 to be spent on short-term downtown improvements, most targeted for completion this year.
Community and Economic Development Director Charlie Mitchell said Monday he needs the council’s approval to get some immediate work done.
Much of the discussion during the work session centered on a process by which the council — acting as the urban renewal agency — will approve expenditures for the Main Street program.
Mitchell said he would like that spelled out so the committees can forge ahead with project-ready proposals that will give the downtown district an immediate lift.
“We’re looking for some direction,” Mitchell said. “What role does the council want to play in reviewing and approving these projects?”
Mitchell noted that facade improvement grants have already been awarded to Mary McCracken, owner of the Anthony Building on Adams Avenue, and Bobbi Bowler, owner of the Dunphy building on Depot Street.
He said both projects should be complete by the Nov. 30 deadline. He also said other facade grants are pending and will be awarded late this summer.
Also in the way of short-term improvements, Mitchell said the Main Street Program is poised to go ahead with installation of bike racks, adoption of a logo, the hanging of pole banners and lighting improvements at Max Square.
Barreto Manufacturing has submitted a bid to build bike racks, in the form of hoops that can be bolted to sidewalks separately or side-by-side.
Barreto would make 20 plain hoops, 15 with a design depicting Mount Emily and wagon wheel spokes, and 15 showing Mount Emily and a camas flower.
The logo, conceived by Red Bat Designs of La Grande, would be used in a wide range of promotional applications. Among other things, it would adorn pole banners that would hang at either end of Adams Avenue during the summer and fall months.
Mitchell said plans to improve Max Square lighting are on the drawing board, though at $30,000 the project may be a little too expensive to complete right away.
“The options are to scale the project back, hold off for a year, or appropriate the money from other sources,” he said.
Council work sessions are held to discuss topics and exchange ideas with staff, not to make decisions.
A consensus did emerge, however, that the proposed short-term improvements should be brought before the council during its Sept. 16 regular meeting.
Also discussed were ways to improve communication between the council and the Main Street Program committees.
“My concern is accountability,” said Mayor Colleen Johnson. “To me it seems whatever process we have for existing committees, we should have for Main Street. At the end of the day, it’s the council or the urban renewal agency that will be blamed or praised.”
The councilors agreed that the approval process shouldn’t bog down progress. At the same time, they said they wanted to be informed of proposals.
Johnson suggested that minutes of committee meetings be e-mailed to all councilors. Councilor Gary Lillard wondered if the council might receive a monthly report from committees.
Clements said he thinks there should be a more formal process for the large expenditures.
“When we start talking more than $5,000, I get nervous,” he said.
Discussion about process aside, everybody agreed that results are all important.
Without them, the public is apt to compare the Main Street Program with past downtown improvement initiatives that never got off the ground.
“We need to see some action,” said Councilor Mary Ann Miesner. “We’ve been promising it since I’ve been on the council, and nothing’s happened.”