Main Street deserves 2nd chance

By Observer editorial June 21, 2013 09:14 am

Despite what is often seen in the Legislature with the Democrats lining up on one side of the aisle and the Republicans on the other, each side whistling its own party anthem, not everyone walks to the beat of the same drummer.

Take La Grande Main Street, for instance. The city council a week ago voted based on letters of objection to end an effort to create an Economic Improvement District.

But as they say, as one door closes, another opens. It’s disappointing to the La Grande Main Street group, which spent more than a year of hard work and planning trying to establish the district, and it should be disappointing to the rest of us, too.

Still, maybe something good will come out of this setback.

The ordinance provided that the district would not be created if 33 percent of the total assessment were represented by letters of objection. City Manager Robert Strope said at last week’s meeting that the city had received letters totaling 41.9 percent of the assessment, and so the effort was scrapped, for now.

La Grande was accepted into the Main Street program in 2008. The program’s mission is “to create an inviting, sustainable downtown rooted in La Grande’s history and culture, providing a vital center for commercial and community activities.”

Noble goals, those, in these days of the supercenterfication of small town America.

It may not be possible to present a united front among the downtown businesses represented in the proposed Economic Improvement District. But all the businesses downtown obviously would benefit from the area being a vibrant hub, a place where shoppers feel they will get good bargains and excellent customer service, a place summer visitors recognize as full of positive energy.

As in many small towns across America, however, the hub has migrated to the supercenter out in the burbs, or in this case, Island City.

But Main Street has made progress in revitalizing the downtown and bringing some shoppers back. Projects Main Street has played an instrumental role in include the summer flower basket program, the Big H project and the Liberty Theatre rehabilitation project.

The city has provided financial support for the Main Street program through a Resource Assistance for Rural Environments grant. That funding, however, won’t go on forever. The proposed Economic Improvement District was intended to collect assessments from property owners within the downtown district to help fund Main Street, with a primary goal to staff one full-time position. Property and business owners, however, raised concerns about the unfair burden on businesses not on Adams Avenue, among other issues. 

Progress has been made on revitalizing the downtown. Now is a good time for Main Street to be re-evaluated and to find a fair way to fund the program so that all the businesses in the district can reap the benefits of continued revitalization.