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Improving downtown means teamwork, enhancing assets

Editor’s note: Matthew Klebes is the new coordinator of The Dalles Main Street, the effort designed to enliven and revitalize the downtown area. Main Street will be offering occasional columns to update the public about those efforts.

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Downtowns are spaces that can exemplify the qualities, lifestyles, history, and interests of the people who live in a town.

This is what enables downtowns to become unique places that are the heart of their communities and draw people in to visit, interact, shop and work. While no two downtowns are exactly the same, the facets that produce a vibrant town are universal.

Anyone interested in improving their downtown must focus on strengthening the already impressive physical attributes and public spaces that all communities have, including The Dalles. This can be done through maintaining the historic facades of its buildings, creating public spaces that allow people to gather and interact, or anything else that makes downtown a great place to shop, visit, and enjoy.

Focus must also be placed in supporting local businesses by buying local, bringing more people into the downtown, and providing services and assistance to new businesses working hard to get started. Finally, sharing the story of our downtown and letting everyone know its distinctive attributes, its successes, and its plans for the future is critical.

All of this work is important to a downtown and can only be comprehensively implemented through an effective organization made up of local volunteers and community members.

The Dalles Main Street Organization follows this “Main Street Approach” developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation which, using the facets described above, uses four committees to focus on each of the key areas: Design, Economic Restructuring (Business), Promotion and Organization.

Both nationally and across the state, downtown revitalization programs are using this approach with tremendous success. The resulting four committees aim to “build livable and sustainable communities that will grow Oregon’s economy while maintaining a sense of place.”

The Dalles is just one community out of many using this approach to strengthen their downtowns. Coos Bay, Sandy, Port Orford, Astoria, La Grande, Milton-Freewater and Oregon City are just some of our sister cities that are creating and supporting Main Street Organizations that are having a positive impact on their downtowns and communities as a whole.

Each of these organizations is at a different stage of development, but we can all share and learn from each other. For example, Oregon City has directional signs placed in the pavement of their sidewalks to help pedestrians find their way while not blocking other business signs hanging above the street.

La Grande works with downtown businesses to hang colorful flower planters along their main streets to beautify the downtown and encourage people to stop, get out of their cars and window shop.

The Dalles Main Street Organization has arranged workshops for business owners on topics such as effective storefront window displays. Additional workshop topics could include historic restoration tools and business management techniques, among others.

While the actual programs, tools, workshops etc., may differ, one thing remains the same: nearly 2,200 cities and towns throughout the country have come together to create Main Street organizations that provide a foundation for active, vibrant downtown districts.

Here in The Dalles, the Main Street Organization has three active committees; Design, Promotion and Business as well as a Board which provides oversight and organization. Each of these committees is comprised of community volunteers and we are always looking for new individuals who are interested in joining the effort by sharing their ideas or volunteering their time and energy.

The Design Committee’s goal is to, “Create a welcoming downtown through building improvements and enhancing the pedestrian environment.” Currently, the Design Committee is working to achieve this goal through façade improvement, public space development and small grant assistance.

The Promotion Committee’s goal is to, “Promote the downtown as the center of The Dalles, as a great place to live, work, play and do business.” Currently, the Promotion Committee is working hard organizing events such as the recent Halloween After Party, Jammin’ July, Our Town Fashion Show, and the Christmas decorations and activities you will see downtown this holiday season.

The Business Committee’s goal is to, “Promote the economic stability of the downtown by supporting and attracting small business.” Currently, the Business Committee is working to identify potential projects such as business incubators, downtown inventories, and other small business assistance.

We encourage folks to join us in our efforts and look forward to harnessing the potential we all see in our downtown. For more information on The Dalles Main Street please visit our Facebook page entitled, “The Dalles Main Street Program” or check out our Instagram account (“thedallesmainstreet”) and see if you can guess the, “Weekly Wednesday Where in The Dalles” picture.

You may also contact me at 541-370-2966 or via email at tdmainstreet@gorge.net. Happy Holidays!

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