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Editorial: Main Street opportunity

AFTERNOON TRAFFIC keeps Second Street bustling Jan. 31. The Dalles Main Street is fielding a revised proposal to tax downtown businesses to pay for its executive director and marketing strategy. 	Mark B. Gibson photo

AFTERNOON TRAFFIC keeps Second Street bustling Jan. 31. The Dalles Main Street is fielding a revised proposal to tax downtown businesses to pay for its executive director and marketing strategy. Mark B. Gibson photo Photo by Mark Gibson.

The Dalles Main Street advocates were dealt a blow this week when a petition was turned in opposing economic improvement district funding for the organization.

The jury is still out on whether all the signatures are valid. Downtown business owner Chuck Langley submitted the petition, which reportedly includes signatures representing 76 of the almost 200 tax lots affected by the district. Petition verification is under way now in advance of the April 22 public hearing on the issue.

Written objections from the property owners must represent 33 percent of the assessed value to halt the district process.

The deadline for comment on the plan is April 12.

It’s conceivable the district could still move forward, if opposing valuation isn’t adequate or if some of the signatures turn out to be ineligible.

Even if the funding plan is scotched, that needn’t spell the end of Main Street in The Dalles.

It didn’t for Main Street Oregon City, which had its economic improvement district rejected by property owners the first time around. Its program started over four years ago with a $30,000 contribution from the city (sound familiar?) and private donations from property owners and businesses.

Today Oregon City’s downtown is a district redeveloping under the Blue Collar Creative image. The name pays homage to its timber town roots and the artists and crafts people who are gathering to revitalize the area. It courts business people with an energetic and entrepreneurial spirit.

Oregon City’s volunteers started without tax funding and were able to make enough progress in two years to persuade property owners that an improvement district was in their best interest.

Right now, it seems pretty clear (or will, if signatures come up to snuff) that not enough downtown property owners are interested in adding a $250-a-year bill to the property taxes they pay the city or the dues they may pay as members of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Dalles Main Street may need to rethink itself in light of this possible disappointment.

Main Street still has a proven formula to help small cities bootstrap their downtowns to healthier economies. The Dalles’ group may not be able to afford a full-time coordinator, but it can take advantage of resources and support offered by existing organizations like the Chamber and the Port of The Dalles.

The critical things at this point are to take a positive, can-do approach and not to let disappointment derail efforts to improve the downtown. Remember — even when the vacancy rate is high — The Dalles still has a strong core of business owners who have been creative enough to keep their operations going through the second-worst national economy of the past century.

That’s something to celebrate. It’s also something to check out, because The Dalles needs shoppers downtown. The products are there — clothing, computers, craft supplies, ukuleles, cuisine representing a host of different nationalities, and much more.

And even though our downtown is relatively long as downtowns go, it is still as walkable as any mall.

The Dalles must promote its assets and actively court people who will take advantage of its opportunities.

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