There are eight economic development projects in the planning stages for the downtown blocks of The Dalles, according to a report given Monday by city officials.
“Though you haven’t really seen it yet, you will see in the future the successes we are having in downtown,” said Gary Rains, the city’s business development director.
An announcement was also made at the June 15 townhall that the annual Oregon Main Street conference will be held in The Dalles this fall, which is expected to bring about 200 attendees.
“This will be a great opportunity for people all over the state to come here and see what’s going on,” said Matthew Klebes, executive director of The Dalles Main Street program.
Rains and Klebes were seated on a panel to talk about economic issues at the meeting, which was held at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center. Joining them was Nolan Young, city manager, and Mayor Steve Lawrence.
“Townhalls have sometimes been used when there were controversial matters but we decided to make it informational,” said Lawrence to the audience of about 30 people.
Councilors Linda Miller, Tim McGlothlin, Russ Brown and Taner Elliott were present, as were several city staffers.
Lawrence started off the forum by providing background about work being undertaken by the city, Port of The Dalles, Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, Mid-Columbia Council of Governments and other agencies to provide more jobs and visitors.
“Partnerships have been a huge part of what we’ve been doing over the last year and one-half,” he said.
The mayor said the city was meeting regularly with Andrea Klaas, port director, to make sure the groundwork was laid for new development or expansion of an existing business.
After doing an informal survey of cruise ship passengers visiting The Dalles, Lawrence said their focus is not on the 30 or more empty storefronts in the downtown blocks, but on the rich history of the area and its attractions.
“We are viewing the empty storefronts not as something to complain about, but as opportunities,” he said.
Young said the city established an Economic Development Department in 2012 by contracting with Dan Durow, retired planning director, for part-time work on urban renewal projects.
Although Durow will be transitioning out of that job within the next few months, Young said an administrative intern was working four months out of the year in that department.
In addition, he said the city was contributing $25,000 this year to Klebes’ position and a full-time project coordinator would soon be hired.
That job has been advertised in-house and applicants need a degree in public administration to qualify. The pay for the position will be about $72,000 per year for wages and benefits.
Rains, who is also part of the department overseen by Young, said he was currently working with five realtors, four bankers and three investors on numerous ventures.
In addition to Free Bridge Brewing Company setting up shop in The Mint building on Second Street, he said an agreement is being negotiated to build condominiums in the Honald Building at Second and Federal streets.
Defiance Brewing Company is also moving forward with plans to open in a former Ice House on Laughlin Street.
A business incubator could soon open up in the former medical equipment center at First and Union streets.
Mid-Columbia Medical Center is working with the city to establish the center that will help start-up companies and bring more jobs to The Dalles.
In addition, MCMC has leased the Craig Building on Second Street to use as office space and headquarters for the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation.
Rains is also facilitating the establishment of a Neon Sign Museum in the former Elks Building at the corner of Third and Court streets that is expected to bring in 15,000-20,000 visitors per year.
He said two other businesses are interested in coming to The Dalles but he declined further comment on those plans because they have not far enough along in the planning stages.
“We are doing remarkable things and it’s all because of partnerships,” said Rains.
Lawrence said a lot of time had been spent in recent years on plans to revitalize the downtown business corridor because of its effect on the overall economic health of the community.
“The realization is that the whole area isn’t going to survive if the downtown dies,” he said.
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re not focusing on the entire area and what’s going on.
Lawrence said another hotel could be built in the near future on the west end of town and the city would like to see an RV Park set up somewhere to accommodate tourists.
He said the Color Dash organized by The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce that drew almost 1,000 participants is an example of an event that benefits all businesses.
Klebes said there are about 200 businesses located downtown and some were interested in setting up “parklettes” similar to the one in front of Petit Provence and Columbia River Music.
He said facades are being replaced on several Second Street buildings and there has been strong support for in the community for the “Shop Local” campaign initiated by Main Street and the chamber.
Lawrence said businesses in The Dalles were being encouraged to become “bike friendly” to draw more riders into town.
Young said a “hub” to provide services for cyclists would be set up at the Lewis and Clark Festival Park because restrooms were already available so it would be the most cost-effective location to use for that purpose.
“Private businesses can be auxiliary hubs,” he said.
The city is also capitalizing, said Lawrence, on the 100 cruise ships that are docking this year and sending passengers to the Fort Dalles Museum, Discovery Center and other places of interest in the area.
“All of these things are economic benefits that are reverberating throughout this community,” said the mayor.