September 21, 2001 11:00 pm

The City of La Grande is making strides to give its downtown the economic boost that it needs to resurrect itself and provide the opportunities that our downtown businesses deserve.

The city recently received word that the downtown has been designated a National Historic District. The designation, when combined with the urban renewal district, should provide necessary incentives for property owners and potential investors who want to see the downtown move beyond a few successful businesses interspersed with some empty storefronts and dilapidated buildings.

La Grandes downtown has been struggling for some time. Not since the 1960s has La Grande seen its downtown bubbling with daily activity . The loss of key retailers, the advent of discount stores on the strip, and the general struggle rural communities face in competing with retail centers in larger communities have made doing business in the core area a bigger challenge than many retailers have wanted or been able to take on.

La Grandes downtown and the people who have hung in there deserve the benefits that both the historic district and urban renewal district can provide.

The historic district will pro- vide tax incentives and property tax relief for building owners who want to improve the exterior of their buildings. The challenge is that gaining the incentives will mean that the improvements will have to meet certain guidelines.

The urban renewal district provides tax increment financing for improvements within the district. That financing is an incentive for seeing that building improvements occur. It might take years before the benefits can be seen, but it will happen because the foundation to make it happen is in place.

In the meantime we all should do our part to see that our downtown business people survive and thrive. They are the people who are keeping the downtown going. They are the people who support most fund-raisers our community comes up with. They are the people who on a daily basis must rationalize if keeping their door open is really worth the time and expense. But, by and large, they opt to remain in business.

La Grande needs a strong downtown. Our downtown business people deserve the incentives the two districts and faithful shoppers can provide. We must do all that we can to see that the downtown survives in the hope that someday it will thrive like it once did.