Downtown areas are usually known as a community’s heart, and six Douglas County cities are embracing opportunities to keep theirs beating.
Those opportunities are known as the Oregon Main Street program. The program is a statewide coordinating program that was restarted by legislature in 2007. According to website, “Oregon Main Street is here to help communities wherever they are in their downtown revitalization efforts.”
The program offers four tiers of participation. Each comes with its own requirements and rewards. Assistance ranges from network opportunities to strategic planning to grants.
“When we were restarted, the legislature wanted us to work with a broad range of communities. So the tiered structure that we developed in Oregon was really developed with that goal in mind,” Oregon Main Street Coordinator Sheri Stuart said. “We allow any community that cares about their historic downtown to connect with us based upon what their capacity is and their readiness to move forward with our comprehensive downtown revitalization effort.”
All six Douglas County cities utilizing the program — Canyonville, Elkton, Glide, Myrtle Creek, Reedsport and Sutherlin — are Connected Communities. These towns have the drive to create change in their communities, but might not have the dedicated staffing or overall capacity to move forward just yet.
Sutherlin and Canyonville are working toward joining the Affiliated Main Street level. The application process, which has recently been revamped, is a bit more extensive at this level. Stuart said it asks more why questions, requests history information and details about current downtown revitalization efforts.
The program staff are more hands on for its Affiliated Main Street tiers and above, providing a wide range of support to help cities begin using its four point system. All communities, however, benefit from weekly Zoom network meetings with other Oregon Main Street cities, workshop, webinars and a yearly conference.
Sutherlin began its journey with Oregon Main Street in 2014. As part of the process, though not required of a Connected Community, an organization known as Sutherlin Downtown Development. was created. According to City Manager Jerry Gillham, the nonprofit exclusively follows the four point approach to downtown revitalization.
These transformation strategies are part of the Main Street America program, of which Oregon Main Street is a coordinating program. The four points are economic vitality, design, promotion and organization.
In May, Oregon Main Street awarded an almost $200,000 grant to Sutherlin Downtown Development. The funds are to go towards the restoration of the Sutherlin Historic Bank Building.
Building owner Dan Bartram said he was losing hope of ever bringing his vision of the building to life. Bartram and his fiancee purchased the building about three years ago. They were ready to jump into renovations when the pandemic hit, drying up grant opportunities that they had been pursuing.
With the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant and another $60,000 grant from the Sutherlin Urban Renewal District, the historical building has gone through complete asbestos abatement and will receive a new roof and HVAC system, commercial sprinkler system and other renovations required to bring the building back up to code.
Once finished, three retail spaces will be available to lease and a residential area in the back of the building will be used as an Airbnb rental. The top level will be Bartram’s home. The hope, Bartram said, is to have those retail locations open by spring.
“I believe Sutherlin should be an affiliated main street level community because they have an organization in place and they’ve been doing some good work,” Stuart said. “And I believe that they could and should be ready to move forward with a really focused effort and be able to access a few more of our resources by moving up to that level.”
Canyonville is rather new to the program, having only become a Connected Community last year. The Canyonville Main Street Association was formed specifically for the goal of pursuing Oregon Main Street opportunities.
Currently, Canyonville engages in the weekly networking meetings and webinars offered by the program. Along with their Affiliated application, association secretary Mike Kelley said they also plan to pursue the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant.
“The grant is the vehicle that will enable us to go into town and figure out what we want to do,” Kelley said. “We just have to decide what the town really needs.”
Ideas range from establishing a new bakery in town, renovating a derelict building and improving Interstate 5 exit 98. The overall goal is to clean up the town.
“It’s an organized program that has worked for an awful lot of cities and other areas,” Kelley said. “It’s proven to be a pretty successful program. ... I’m just thankful that we have a map, so to speak.”
The Reedsport Main Street Program was established in 2014, but would not have come so far if it wasn’t for RARE AmeriCorps volunteers — which were provided by the Oregon Main Street program. It took five volunteers each working one year each to build the program until it could be managed on its own.
Reedsport was awarded the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant — which is open to all tiers — three times. The most recent grant was used for roof repair on five different downtown businesses. The grant was used in 2017 to renovate seven upper floor apartments in the historic Burdick Building. The most recent grant, awarded last year, was for roofing and electrical projects.
“We’re very thankful to Oregon Main Street network and Sheri for being there with us and working through this last six years with us and helping us become more sustainable,” program liaison Rosa Solano said. “And for the grants. These businesses would not be able to afford the money to fix their buildings otherwise.”
Solano is still working to establish a nonprofit in order to reach that affiliate level. She is searching for more volunteers and members.
“Our main or overall goal is to revitalize Reedsport,” Solano said. “Revitalize it back to where we have the storefronts making it livable and community oriented city where we have businesses coming in.”
Representatives from Elkton, Glide and Myrtle Creek could not be reached.
Applications for the Affiliated Main Street and Designated Main Street levels are open now. Applications are always open for the Connected Community level. Learn more at bit.ly/3D3zOxW.