June 02, 2003 11:00 pm

A renovated Phoenix building is rising in downtown La Grande. The Good Things gift shop and expanded eatery in the old Bohnenkamp Hardware building has been resurrected after smoke damage put the business on the ropes. The former Birnie's Jewelry building has been revitalized. And plans are officially on the drawing board for a commercial/residential building to be constructed on the old Bohnenkamp Interiors site, the hole in the ground that has been a downtown eyesore for nearly 10 years.

Some good things are happening in downtown La Grande. And all of this is occurring during a time when the economy is slow, the threat of a Wal-Mart Supercenter hangs over the community, and some critics have said La Grande's downtown is hopeless.

The downtown is also seeing revitalization on the former Safeway site, the remodeling of the former city-owned building that will house Mamacita's, and the Mangums' overhaul of the former Sandy's Fashions site — not to mention the work the Gosses have done to their buildings and lots.

On top of the building renovations has come a spirited effort to beautify the downtown. A year ago an enthusiastic new organization, the Women Business Owners' Alliance, brought people together to hang up a few banners found tucked away in a basement. The goal was to improve downtown's


This year the community's garden club, Garden Gate, spearheaded a project in conjunction with the alliance to further spiff up the downtown by placing and filling planters throughout the core area. The next step will be some benches, and perhaps more banners if funding can be obtained.

Life has been breathed into the down- town from a variety of people — people committed to their community's core area. The investment people are making — ranging from David Williams' renovation of the Phoenix Building to Calvin and Sharon Dykes' rejuvenation of Good Things to Mark Tipperman's remodeling in the Birnie's space, not to mention the many other investments of time and money — are all very good signs.

For years the downtown has needed a shot in the arm. From time to time it has seen some positive changes as new people have invested in particular businesses and buildings. But the number of projects now under way and the fact a new spirit seems to prevail bode well for downtown's future. The critical factor will be keeping that spirit alive and helping it spread, and finding some retail businesses that will help draw more people to the downtown.

The new investments are a big step in the right direction. What a difference people can make when they put their minds to a cause.