Intern at city focuses on Main Street Program

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer September 23, 2010 09:16 am
Erin Montgomery recently joined  the City of  La Grandeís Community and Economic Development Department as an intern. Montgomery,  who recently  completed work on her masterís degree in urban planning, will be the cityís liaison to the La Grande Main Street Program. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
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The City of La Grande added a new pair of helping hands this month when Erin Montgomery came aboard as a Community and Economic Development Department intern.

Montgomery, 28, earned her master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Washington in Seattle last spring.

Following that, she applied for an internship through the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments program.

“I was interested in the RARE program because it has a rural focus,” she said. She added that of six communities offering internships, La Grande was one of her top picks.

“I like the location, the projects and the city itself. Plus, I had a really good feeling about the people who interviewed me for the position,” she said.

On Sept. 7, Montgomery replaced RARE intern Jason McNeil, who served the city 11 months before moving on to a job in the planning office at Dallas in Polk County.

Like McNeil, Montgomery will be heavily involved in the La Grande Main Street Program, a public-private initiative aimed at improving downtown.

“My official title is Main Street manager. I’m working with all four Main Street committees and offering assistance to the board,” she said.

La Grande was one of 11 Oregon communities selected in 2008 to participate in the newly revamped Oregon Main Street program. The state program is affiliated with the National Trust Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.

The program’s approach encompasses work in four broad areas: organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. Local committees are appointed to keep efforts moving forward in those areas.

In La Grande, those committees are working in concert with the city’s Community and Economic and Development Department and Urban Renewal Agency to revitalize downtown. When McNeil started as an intern, he said one of his primary responsibilities was to help the program evolve into a private-sector endeavor.

So far, La Grande Main Street efforts have yielded a facade improvement grant program, bike racks for downtown, decorative improvements like welcome banners and hanging flower baskets, surveys of downtown businesses and Eastern Oregon University students, a downtown traffic impact study, and more.

Currently, two significant projects — exterior renovations of the Town Square building at Washington Avenue and Fourth Street and the Maridell Center (the former Elks Lodge) at Washington and Depot Street — are under way with help from the the Main Street Program.

Like McNeil before her, Montgomery will serve as the city’s liaison to the Main Street Program.

She will coordinate meetings, work on downtown design issues, produce a newsletter, work to increase the program’s presence on social networking sites, and look after other details as well.

She said she believes her experience in La Grande will help her as she pursues a career in urban planning.

“I hope to keep carving out a direction for myself in the planning world. It takes hard work and perseverance,” she said.

Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, commonly known as RARE, works to increase the capacity of rural communities to improve economic, social, and environmental conditions through the assistance of trained graduate-level participants.

Qualified college graduates with a bachelor’s degree and graduate-level students who are selected as RARE participants help communities and agencies develop plans for achieving a sustainable natural resource base and improving rural economic conditions.

In return, interns gain community building and leadership skills. As far as Montgomery is concerned, it’s a good trade.

 “I’m recognizing that I have some burgeoning leadership skills and I hope to develop them by taking on leadership roles,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said RARE offers its interns a wealth of technical support. In addition, the 25 interns working throughout Oregon stay in touch with each other, trading ideas and keeping each other posted on projects and activities.

“We’re each other’s support, and that’s nice because we are put in towns where we don’t know anybody. It’s helpful to be connected,” she said.