The Downtown Roseburg Association presented the results of a recently completed study showing people’s attitudes toward downtown at its annual meeting Thursday.

About 30 residents, business owners and city officials attended the meeting at Brix Grill. The results were presented by association board members and Sheri Stuart, coordinator of Oregon Main Street — an Oregon Parks and Recreation Department program that works to revitalize downtowns statewide.

Oregon Main Street selected the association for the study, which included a survey of people’s shopping habits and views of downtown. The survey collected 551 responses, which Stuart said was the highest number she has ever received.

The survey quantified longstanding community concern with homelessness and vacant storefronts. But it also showed many people are optimistic about downtown’s opportunities for economic growth. The association will use the study to create strategies that grow downtown’s economy and appeal with help from Oregon Main Street.

“We heard a lot about what people would like to see and experience downtown,” Stuart said. “There was a lot of consistency in responses about the challenges impacting downtown.”

More than 400 respondents said homelessness was one of the top three issues facing downtown. When asked what words come to mind when people think of downtown, 235 people said “homeless/homelessness/transients.”

Stuart said the association should be a voice in efforts to address homelessness, but not the lead organization. “There are so many others with the expertise and resources that are better-suited to be the lead,” she said.

The next most common issues for respondents were parking and building vacancies — 148 and 128 people, respectively, marked them as top three issues. Ninety-three people said “empty/vacancies/closed/dead” were words that came to mind when they thought about downtown.

Seventy-four people said safety and crime were top issues. Additionally, 68 people said drugs were a top issue. Ninety-three people, however, said “restaurants/food/dining” were words they associated with downtown. When asked to list positive things about downtown, 232 people said restaurants/food. Then next most common positive response was downtown’s history — 107 respondents.

The most common types of businesses people said they would like to see more of were bookstores, coffee shops/bakeries, entertainment and clothing stores.

Part of the study included a “sales void analysis,” which identified inequalities in demand and supply within a 10-mile radius of downtown for certain types of products. The analysis showed a general oversupply of retail, but deficiencies in electronics, clothing and home furnishings.

DRA board member Mandy Elder said the association wants to embrace downtown’s history while bringing in more young people to the process of revitalization. Only 17% of survey respondents were aged 34 and below. Respondents aged 55-74 made up 43.5% of the responses.

The majority of respondents said they don’t live or work downtown, and more than half of respondents said they wouldn’t live downtown if they could.

While the study showed several common concerns, association members asserted the results are a first step to making progress.

“What a great opportunity this is to feel really optimistic about where our community is heading,” Elder said.

Using the study results, market data and conversations with business owners, the association decided “Downtown Roseburg, Authentically Umpqua” should be the core theme in its improvement efforts.

The association, the city, Blue Zones Project Umpqua and business owners are working to implement more outdoor dining opportunities downtown using “parklets” — sidewalk structures that extend out from businesses into parking areas.

Blue Zones and North Forty Beer Company co-owner Arin Forrest, who is also design chair on the association’s board, will present the idea to City Council at its 7 p.m. regular meeting Monday.

“It’s one of the number one things we hear all the time when people come in and sit at the bar and talk to us, ‘Man, I wish you had some place outside to sit,’” Forrest said.

He said parklets have been implemented in cities across the Northwest.

“We’re an outdoorsy kind of area and its crazy that you have to sit inside a concrete box when you want to have something to eat,” Forrest said.

Stuart said many places have struggled to create their first parklets because people react negatively to reduced parking, “but the communities have really rallied around them.”

Forrest said people working on parklet development will include ways to offset parking reduction.

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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