Oregon Main Street program goes mainstream

Oregon Main Street program goes mainstream

DAYTON, Ore. (AP) — Kelly Haverkate has a grand vision for the tiny stretch of Main Street in Dayton, where she owns a business. She wants to see the street become a hub for healthy, farm-to-table dining where visitors can try local fare and wine.

Oregon's Main Street program, only two years old, may help realize that dream.

Since 2008, 67 cities have joined the state's Main Street program, which provides resources to help revitalize historic commercial districts. Among the six cities at the top — or "performing" — level, 29 new businesses moved into the Main Street areas. They created 120 jobs and netted more than $2 million in private spending on building revitalization.

"It's a combination of three things that make this program successful here in Oregon," said Sheri Stuart, the coordinator of the state program. She cited "an interest in making and implementing downtown revitalization strategies, an increased awareness of culture and history, and an increased (focus) on sustainability."

Stuart has been involved with Main Street programs for 20 years, mostly in Washington state. But she has never seen effectiveness like in Oregon in the last year, she said.

The program is based on four key points that lead to economic revitalization: organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. The program offers technical and financial support to the business community for public beautification projects, town events and historic building revitalization projects.

Haverkate teamed up with several other Dayton business people to start a Main Street program last year. As the manager, Haverkate has spent most of the past year raising money for the revitalization.

"It's been a great program because we've been getting so much support at both the state level (and) from nearby towns that use the program," she said.

One of those cities is McMinnville, which was one of the state's first Main Street program participants. The city has been an official member for only two years, but its business community has been using the Main Street approach for nearly 25 years, said Kris Gullo, manager of the program in McMinnville.

"We're functioning very well as a Main Street and it's because we've become very good at leveraging partnerships," Gullo said. "The property owners themselves started this program, which has been the reason it's been so strong."

The property owners approved creation of an economic improvement district, to collect property taxes to pay half of program costs; the other half came from the city. Gullo said she doesn't need to focus on fundraising and instead can work on projects.

Through the program McMinnville purchased and installed historic-looking streetlights with hanging baskets, started a facade improvements grant and began hosting events.

Dayton is trying to establish the same sort of leverage. Haverkate recently held a design charrette so that local business people could discuss facade improvements for several downtown buildings. The move, Haverkate said, gives business and property owners a vested interest in downtown improvements.

Oregon City's Main Street program has been around since October 2008. Since its inception, more than 24 businesses have joined the Main Street area. The program has leveraged $1.2 million of private investments for building revitalization as well as nearly $4 million in public money for infrastructure improvements.

"We've focused a lot of attention on marketing downtown as a place to do business," said Lloyd Purdy, manager of Oregon City's Main Street program. "That combined with coordinating the efforts for downtown improvements has really helped energize this program."

One of the most successful projects stemming from the program was the creation of an online marketing video called Blue Collar Creative. The video, which received a national production award, targets creative entrepreneurs and shows the benefits of working in Oregon City.

Haverkate said Dayton could do something similar, but with an emphasis on the local food industry. She is working with the city, the state and local colleges to create an incubator so that restaurateurs can start out in shared spaces and then eventually move into vacant spaces along Main Street.

"The successful programs have been the ones that have branded themselves right, and that's what we want to do," she said. "That vested interest is a brand."

Nationally, about 20 percent of the participants withdraw from the program after two years. Stuart said the successful ones follow the models developed by cities like McMinnville and Oregon City.

"You need to build that momentum and the resources in the first few years, and it really seems like Dayton is doing that," Stuart said. "If they keep it up, and other towns follow, this program can be a success across the state."

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Information from: Daily Journal of Commerce, http://djcoregon.com

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.