“This past year has been a challenging and transformative year for the Downtown Roseburg Association. “
Thus began the report that Executive Director Susie Johnston-Forte, board president Todd Boyd and board member Arin Forrest gave to the Roseburg City Council on Monday night. They went over the organization’s struggles this year and its plans for next year, which include a new name, new location and agenda of activities meant to support businesses in the downtown core.
The newly named Roseburg Town Center has moved from its former offices at 753 SE Main St., a block over to its new location at 612 SE Jackson St. However, due to the coronavirus and the lack of staff, which was put on furlough, the new office has yet to officially open.
“The last couple of years have really been tough on us as an organization, and we just wanted to start over, reboot,” Johnston-Forte said.
This year was particularly difficult for the Roseburg Town Center, after what looked to be a promising summer, she said.
Due to COVID-19, the association was forced to postpone or cancel seven major events scheduled for this summer. That included a three-part outdoor concert series that had booked national musicians; a spring street festival; and a downtown food festival known as Forks, Corks, and Ales.
The Summer Steelhead Series was going to feature three downtown concerts during the annual steelhead salmon angling season, from July to September. The idea was to attract anglers and visitors during the steelhead season while promoting the Umpqua rivers as a key steelhead angling destination. National, as well as local bands, had been booked, according to the Roseburg Town Center. This was to be the series’ kickoff year and the City of Roseburg had earmarked $21,500 to help get it started.
“That really hit our budget in a serious way. That was nearly half our projected budget for the year, those events,” Johnston-Forte said. “We were on this great roll, especially with the concerts and other events we had booked for this summer.”
Also this year the city canceled a contract it had with the association to manage traffic downtown and collect garbage. The Roseburg Town Center asked for the cancellation, saying both duties were taking time away from its main task of promoting businesses downtown.
On Monday, the trio from the association announced several activities the Roseburg Town Center is planning for the end of this year and into next year.
One new venture is a small market, which Johnston-Forte called a “local goods shop,” at the new office on Jackson Street that will feature local handicrafts and food. Over 25 vendors have applied to sell their goods in the shop, which is slated to open by the end of November, she said.
“It’s all local products. Locally made, locally grown, locally produced,” Johnston-Forte said. “This gives our farmers and growers a place where they can consistently sell their products.”
The RTC is also working on other projects, including:
- A downtown lighting program that will ask owners of downtown buildings to install lights to increase safety and improve nighttime visibility.
- An arts integration program to get more public art downtown.
- A program to light up downtown during the holidays.
- A continuation of the flower basket program, where flowers are displayed throughout downtown.
- A survey of downtown business owners to collect information on how they are doing amid the coronavirus.
- A one-on-one support program to help downtown business owners get the help they need to prosper.
Paying membership has dipped from more than 50 businesses last year to only 17 now, Johnston-Forte said.
Forrest, who is an owner of North Forty Beer Co. on Jackson Street downtown, said he has first-hand knowledge of how difficult the business climate has been this year.
“It’s been tough since COVID started in general, just being downtown,” he said.
In other business Monday, the Roseburg City Council also:
- Said goodbye to city attorney Bruce Coalwell, who is retiring at the end of the month. Coalwell began representing the city in 1986 and was officially named city attorney in 2006. He was presented a plaque, virtually during the Zoom meeting, for his lengthy and distinguished service.
- Canceled the meeting scheduled for Nov. 23 because it is during the week of Thanksgiving.
- Agreed to apply for three Oregon Department of Transportation grants for work on the Douglas Avenue, Parker Street and Jackson Street bridges. The grants the city is applying for total just over $16 million. The grants would require a city match of about $1.7 million, but that money could be contributed in in-kind work. If approved the work would not begin until at least 2025.
- Heard a report about the Roseburg Public Library from Director Kris Wiley. Wiley said the library currently has 76,000 items in its collection, mostly books. About half those checking out items are adults and half children, she said. The library now has more than 110,000 ebooks and eaudiobooks available and they are very popular, Wiley said. The library got just under $190,000 in grants to help with operating expenses in the last fiscal year, including contributions from the Whipple Foundation, the Douglas County Library Foundation and The Ford Family Foundation.