April 19, 2001 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The City of La Grandes downtown revitalization program received a setback this week when the state announced the winners of grants designed for such programs.

La Grande, which had applied for a grant of $364,000 and a loan of $450,000 from the Community Incentive Funds to pay for the first phase of the downtown streetscape improvements between Fourth Street and Depot Street, was not among the recipients.

The grant would have paid for completing the final engineering and construction plans and the construction, said Community Development Director Mike Hyde. Some $100,000, including planning, has already gone into the project, he said.

Hyde said he felt the city did not compete well for the latest grants because the city did not have engineering done for the streetscape.

The Community Incentive Fund, which uses lottery-backed bonds, is part of Gov. John Kitzhabers Livability Initiative as approved by the 1999 Oregon Legislature.

There was only $5 million to be distributed this time, so we were not surprised not to get any funds, Hyde said. There were 80 applicants which totaled $37 million requests, he said.

Hyde said he feels the city will have a better chance in the next round since the governor has included $35 million in his 2001-03 budget for such projects.

The concept is to help revitalize downtowns and main streets, develop affordable housing near jobs and transportation and rebuild rural and distressed economies.

The La Grande revitalization project calls for the business district to be more pedestrian friendly, with wider sidewalks, curb extensions and bubble outs, additional trees, landscaping, benches, outdoor dining space, possibly new street lights, informational panels, bike racks and directional signs.

La Grande City Councilor Steve Clements, who earlier this month said he wanted to see the council hold a series of forums around the city, has changed his mind.

He said during Wednesdays council meeting that he wants to table the idea until we have a purpose for such meetings.

At the April 4 council meeting, Clements said he wanted a series of town hall meetings set up in the three La Grande elementary schools to get citizens input on the recent city survey, to educate the public on certain issues and to give people an opportunity to voice concerns or to bring up issues.

Clements did say he would like for the council to have a work session to review the city energy and conservation policy in view of escalating energy costs.

In another issue discussed at the council meeting, Mayor Colleen Johnson said she had met with real estate representatives from Safeway, which indicated the Safeway corporation is in the process of purchasing the present La Grande stores site from its holding company.

After that, the store will be in a better position to divest itself of the property when it moves to its new location at Adams Avenue and Willow Street.

The new site is being cleared for construction of a store. The city is interested in having the present Safeway site as the location of a new library.

Also At Wednesdays council meeting, Fire Chief Bruce Weimer was given permission to apply for $180,000 in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a training center on city-owned property near the Union County Fairgrounds and to purchase personal protective radio-signal operated equipment for firefighters.

Weimer did not seem overly hopeful of getting the money, however, saying only 1,500 of 20,000 applicants will be funded.