Architect Mark Seder and Jessica Metta, project manager at Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, are working on giving Sherman County a makeover.
The project began with an all-county kickoff on March 31 at the Wasco Annex in Wasco.
“Some of the ideas that had come up before the all-county meeting was all cities wanted to do some kind of group purchasing of new benches, trash cans, street lights and things like that,” Metta said. “Sherman County as a whole has a strong identity. Some other ideas that came out of that was a western motif throughout the county. It was also an opportunity for people to bring up specific ideas for their towns.”
After the all-county meeting, each town (Wasco, Grass Valley, Rufus and Moro) held their own meetings, which also included walking tours of the downtown areas.
Metta was pleased with the turnout and the passion of those in attendance.
“There’s some really excited people showing up at the meetings,” Metta said. “There are a lot of streetscape improvement ideas and folks thinking about better landscaping, trees, lighting and better sidewalks.”
“Some of the towns have had some nice streetscape work done in the last few years, Moro and Grass Valley, but Rufus and Wasco haven’t. In Wasco, it was really evident that the sidewalks in general are in need of repair and are dangerous.
“There’s also been some good discussion on individual buildings, and which ones could really use some paint.”
The purpose of the improvements is to attract more businesses and tourists.
Metta said Moro could really use a restaurant. She also has a plan for vacant buildings.
“We’ve talked about like in downtown The Dalles where they have vacant windows and people have put up displays in the vacant building to just have something of interest,” Metta said. “They are definitely interested in doing something like that. There is a lot of interest in adding plaques with historical information. They have some amazing old buildings in Sherman County.”
Now that each town has met, Seder, who has worked in Rufus for the past decade and is currently one of the architects on the pool in The Dalles, is designing a master plan.
Seder has also done more than a dozen downtown revitalization projects in other rural Oregon cities, including Pendleton, Pilot Rock, Ashland, Mt. Angel, Canby and La Grande.
“Sherman County is a great opportunity, especially gathering all four cities together, a unique effort for each but a united effort at the same time,” Seder said. “Each city in Sherman County is very unique and has their own challenges and opportunities but at the same time I think everybody has a strong sense that they are Sherman County as a whole.”
According to Seder and Metta, the next step is follow-up meetings where Seder will present illustrations to each town and then the entire county.
Another part of the design master plan will be seeking funding opportunities.
According to Metta, Sherman County issues $100,000 a year from the Wind Farms Strategic Investment Program to each of the four cities to use however they want.
Some of the towns have been using that to focus on replacing infrastructure like their water lines and work on their roads. Moro just built a new city hall without any loans.
Metta will also look to other methods to raise money.
When Condon recently revitalized its downtown area, the city developed a building façade improvement fund where the Gilliam County Court was able to reimburse business owners 80 percent of the costs of rehabbing the outside of their buildings.
The Dalles has a similar fund in place.
While most of what Metta has heard is positive, there is also planning fatigue from some citizens who feel like Sherman County has tried this before and nothing happened.
Metta believes the momentum of all four cities coming together will be the difference this time around.
“What we’re trying to do is really make actionable plans that have smaller pieces people could check off,” Metta said.
“To keep some of these ideas moving forward, each city may need to form a committee to really keep it going.
“But I think there’s a lot of opportunity. I feel like if things were spruced up, it would help the communities in general feel good about what they’ve got going on and maybe even see more opportunities down the road.”