OUR VIEW: Request should be taken seriously
The City of La Grande’s efforts to improve downtown have hopefully launched a continued push to improve both the look and business atmosphere for local merchants.
Whether such a push should include granting — or loaning — $500,000 for a $1.1 million food market downtown is another question altogether.
The developer of the New Town Square building at Fourth Street and Washington Avenue, Al Adelsberger, who also owns the Town Square building at Fourth Street and Adams Avenue, recently submitted a written application for $500,000 from the city’s Urban Renewal fund to help fund a new grocery store.
Usually, Urban Renewal funds for projects are capped at $75,000. City Manager Robert Strope has said that if the Urban Renewal Agency — that is the city council wearing different hats — decides to fund the project, it would be in the form of a loan. If job creation and other economic development performance measures were met, the loan could then be converted to a grant, but until then the city would hold a lien on the property.
Adelsberger is partnering with Troy Bergland, who owns Mt. Joseph Family Foods in Wallowa County. According to Adelsberger’s Feb. 20 application, he, along with Bergland, seek to emphasize locally grown products at Market Place Family Foods.
This is no doubt a risk for the City of La Grande and the Urban Renewal program, and before the Urban Renewal Agency decides to dive in, some tough questions need to be answered.
When residents question the Urban Renewal program and who benefits from this fund, should the city really reward money to someone who has already received monies from the funds? In April 2011, the agency awarded up to $65,000 to Adelsberger to remodel the New Town Square basement. Anyone who has entered the old Montgomery Ward building can attest to how great those renovations look. The Market Place, however, has still not opened. The return on that investment and benefit to the community is still to come.
That is not to say that private-public partnerships should be avoided or even that this request should be denied. If the city does intend to move forward in helping this project succeed, expectations of those economic development performance measures need to be laid out clearly for all parties, including the public. We cannot forget that this city needs living wage jobs and affordable goods. If Market Place Family Foods fits that bill then perhaps this is a risk worth taking.
The Urban Renewal Agency will have a work session on the matter at 6 p.m. March 31. That meeting should give a clearer idea of whether this downtown food market will enhance La Grande — and whether Urban Renewal dollars should be used to foot the bill.