City steps up job creation efforts

By Observer Upload March 14, 2013 09:08 am

by Bill Rautenstrauch/For The Observer

A new program offering start-up help for businesses in La Grande’s urban renewal district, and another designed to attract companies to the city could be coming down the pike, following a recent action by the city’s Urban Renewal Agency.

Meeting in regular session Feb. 20, the agency board of directors, which is also the La Grande City Council, approved amendments to the Urban Renewal Plan that include creation of a Business Development Assistance Program.

Details are yet to be worked out, but as proposed the program would have a one-time budget of $250,000, in fiscal year 2013-2014. From there, the program would perpetuate itself, according to City Manager Robert Strope.

“As the loan money comes back, it would be put into a fund that could be used for future start-ups,” Strope said.

According to the amendment, the agency may develop programs and policies to provide grant or loan funds for business development within the district. The funds could be used for small business start-up costs, cooperative marketing, and business retention, expansion and recruitment activities.

The agency board is slated to meet in a work session March 18 to hammer out policy details.

“By their nature, business start-ups are higher risk, so there would have to be a well-done business plan, and the applicant would need knowledge and background in the type of business he’s starting,” Strope said. He added that there would need to be a clear commitment from a property owner. Also, there would be a requirement that the loan applicant take part in a business mentoring program.

Strope said that for those approved, the city would put up one-third of the cost of the start-up. The applicant would be required to put up a third, and an investor the remainder. A loan committee appointed by the agency would oversee the program.

“We’re looking for professionals who understand business and can make good, informed decisions on a loan application,” Strope said.

The resolution passed Feb. 20 includes a series of amendments to the Urban Renewal Plan, but the business assistance program has some hoops to go through before it is put into action.

For that type of plan amendment, passage of the resolution is followed by consultation with affected taxing districts, review by the city’s planning commission, and finally adoption of an ordinance by the city council. The ordinance will be considered during the April and May city council meetings.

Also in the coming fiscal year, the Urban Renewal Plan calls for $500,000 in funding for potential redevelopment of business sites within the district. Action would be taken only in response to known development opportunities. Another $250,000 for site redevelopment is penciled in for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Strope said the money will be offered as incentive for a business to relocate here. If, for instance, a business from out of town wanted to relocate to the La Grande Business and Technology Park, the city would help with costs.

“We want to create some jobs and some new investment in the district,” Strope said.

The resolution adopted Feb. 20 removes four projects from the Urban Renewal Plan and combines two projects into one.

Projects removed include street improvements on Adams Avenue and Greenwood Streets, a plan to promote re-use of the Union Pacific Railroad depot, development of street, streetscape and infrastructure improvements on east Adams Avenue and Cove Avenue, and development of and adoption of design standards for the Central Business Zone and the Adams Avenue and Cove Avenue commercial corridors.

 The plan combines bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the urban renewal area into one project.

The Urban Renewal Plan authorizes the agency to undertake a variety of urban renewal projects and activities, as funding becomes available.

Projects included in the plan are ranked. Funding assistance for rehabilitation of buildings is the top ranked project. The business development program is ranked third.