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A work crew constructs a new sidewalk at a Sutherlin intersection in February.

Sutherlin city officials are excited about a lot of new activity happening in their city, with projects to improve Central Avenue through the middle of town, and a lot of recent interest from businesses considering locating there, plus a wave of home building in the area. And the interest in Sutherlin has coincided with the city making major improvements on Central Avenue.

City Manager Jerry Gillham says there are a lot of good things happening in Sutherlin, the second largest city in Douglas County with a population of just over 8,000.

“We’ve got a grocery store coming, a retail outlet, 143 lots under construction,” Gillham said.

Two potential developments are still in the works for the Sutherlin area. One, called the Oregon Only Project would include a hotel, convention center, amusement and water park and a shopping center. It would be located in the area of the old Sutherlin air strip.

City officials say the development is moving forward, but a lot of things have to come together for it to become a reality. If that project indeed happens, it’s still a few years away.

“It would totally change the economic landscape of our city, and would serve to as a draw to stimulate economic investment,” Gillham said.

The other proposed development is the Ford’s Pond project west of the freeway where an old log pond was a favorite fishing spot for locals for many years.

The city purchased the 95 acre lake and the land around it, and a non-profit group, Friends of Ford’s Pond, came to the city to seek a partnership to try to make it a recreational reserve.

The partnership raised enough money to pay for a master plan, which the city has now adopted. So they are now looking at turning the area into a regionally recognized outdoor paradise.

“There are different stages that the project would be put together, depending on funding, which we are seeking with the help of the Friends of Ford’s Pond, to move forward with those different phases,” Elliott said.

The pond has already become an attraction for birdwatchers, that Gillham says come from all over the U.S. to see the variety of birds that are around the lake.

The Central Avenue project through the center of Sutherlin includes new streets, traffic signals, and sidewalks. Sutherlin Community Development Director Brian Elliott said Central Avenue needed some major work, and their goal was to add to the downtown to stimulate capital investment in the area. He says it’s already started, with businesses making improvements to their properties, and new businesses are showing some interest.

“Structurally, it was deteriorating rapidly,” Elliott said. “When we started this project, it stimulated the activity.”

Gillham says the project has helped, but there are a lot of other factors that have attracted the attention to the city.

“We think that these companies that have done their analysis looking at us, see that we’re sitting right there on I-5 with these things happening,”Gillham said. “What we’re trying to do is clean up Central Avenue, recruiting key businesses, and being open for new development.”

The city has also upgraded parks, they are enhancing walking trails, they’ve kept the library open, attracted a medical center, and finished several infrastructure projects.

“A lot of it started with our infrastructure,” said Elliott. “The city has been really proactive on the infrastructure for the future.”

Chamber president Tami Trowbridge said the upgrading of Central Avenue to State Street has really changed the look of the city, and it never would have happened if the city council hadn’t stepped up to take jurisdiction of the highway, because ODOT wanted to get rid of it.

“I love what they have done downtown,” Trowbridge said. “It’s just raising everybody’s vision a little bit and that’s what we’re trying to do. We just think we’re on the cusp of something good,” she said.

Several new businesses have already located there, with Starbucks, Auto Zone, Evergreen Medical Services, a Dollar General Store and a few others, and Gillham says more are on the way. And the jump in home construction has been encouraging.

“It’s the square footage and the price that’s affordable right now,” said Community Development Director Brian Elliott.

Despite the county closing its library system, Sutherlin was able to keep its library operating. Trowbridge gives a lot of credit to Sutherlin School Superintendent Terry Prestianni.

“Because of him partnering with the city, and the Friends of the Library, we were the first community to have the library back up and running,” she said.

The Sutherlin schools failed in an attempt to pass a bond levy for a major construction project that would have included new classrooms and facilities, but Prestianni said that won’t deter them from providing a good education for the kids in the district, and people look for that when deciding whether to live in the district.

“I think our schools have been achieving at a high rate for a long time and they continue to do that,” he said. “We still offer a lot of electives in the high school and middle school that have been cut at other places. We offer a lot of opportunities that may not be at other schools.”

The stars seem to be aligning for Sutherlin and it could be a very bright future.

“I believe it’s going to do nothing but grow,” Trowbridge said. “Everything we’ve been working toward is kind of coming to a fruition and it’ll be a great place to live and work and have a business.”

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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