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Vibrant Oregon Downtowns

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Purpose

The Vibrant Oregon Downtowns Resource Guidebook (the Guidebook) presents enduring best practices, success stories and additional resources for improving small downtowns. The resources contained in the guidebook recognize that change is inevitable, the future is uncertain, and adaptability is paramount. This guidebook is generally intended for Oregon's small and mid-sized cities, defined as cities with a 2020 population between 5,000 and 50,000 people.

Chart explaining target audiences of the guidebook and how the guidebook should be used, click to view full PDF of Vibrant Oregon Downtowns  

Process

Vibrant Oregon Downtowns builds on existing studies and interviews with city leaders, planners, main street specialists, and downtown experts from across the state. Staff from the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), Oregon Department of Transportation and Development (ODOT), and Oregon Main Streets led a team of consultants through a year-long process to develop the guidebook. This included a literature review of relevant documents, interviews, and extensive expert review.

Contributors

  • Tillamook Chamber of Commerce
  • Opportas Capital
  • Milton-Freewater Downtown Alliance
  • City of Monmouth
  • City of Cottage Grove
  • Eastern Oregon Visitors Association
  • City of Independence
  • City of Estacada
  • Main Streets Mosier
  • Klamath Downtown Association
  • Independence Downtown Association
  • Adaptive Preservation

Case Studies

Vibrant Oregon Downtowns presents case studies that explore solutions and success stories. The case studies provide inspiration from different cities and range from adaptive reuse, to safer streets, and housing opportunities. Learn more by exploring the specific case studies in the links below.

Image of the J.S. Cooper Block building in IndependenceIndependence has supported catalyst development projects and building improvements in the downtown area with targeted actions and programs. One of the most pivotal has been redevelopment of the Valley Concrete Site which was transformed into a boutique hotel and ​housing.​​
Image of the Coos Bay Tioga HotelThe Coos Bay Urba​n Renewal Agency helped support renovation of the historic Tioga Hotel, likely the tallest building on the Oregon Coast. Following completion, the owners plan to turn the 1920s-era building into 52 apartment units.​​​​​
Vacant Merwyn building facade with sign saying Affordable housing is in increasingly short supply in Oregon's coastal region, with rents skyrocketing in the past decade. The Merwyn Apartments in the city of Astoria is an affordable housing project that was once an old hotel. The renovated apartment complex offers 40 units, mostly studios set at low monthly rents, reserved for people and households on limited incomes.​​​​
Street corner containing Cornelius Place Library and a few carsIn Cornelius, a partnership between the city, a non-profit, and private developer resulted in Cornelius Place, a mixed-use development located near downtown city services and amenities. The residential component of Cornelius Place includes 45 new affordable apartments for seniors with household incomes of up to 50-60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI).​​
Cars parked in front of mixed-use building with “Greet Apts” sign displayed at the topThe City of Klamath Falls recognized the importance of activating upper floors in the downtown area, and connecting these spaces to residential uses. The city partnered with the Klamath Falls Downtown Association to pursue grants to fund apartment construction in downtown. The project highlights a range of benefits from additional housing, to amenities that attract people, to a stronger tax base.​
Two-way protected bike lane adjacent to cars approaching a yellow lightThe City of Klamath Falls partnered with community members and the local medical center to identify strategies for improving community health, focusing on active transportation improvements in areas of the community with the greatest need. Along with improving access to active transportation options and improving community health, the project served to support the local economy and emerging downtown business district.
Ashland storefronts with diagonal street parkingThe City of Ashland conducted a pilot project to improve travel lanes on a busy street corridor. Due to the success of the temporary project, the city permanently transformed the street into the new configuration.​
Crowded amphitheater full of people with band playing on a stageThe City of Independence provides free movies and concerts throughout the summer in its recently completed outdoor amphitheater. Lawn seating, concessions, and restrooms with sanitizing stations are there to make a memorable experience for all.
Three bikers with one waving ride by groups of people dining in parklets in a blocked off pedestrian only streetThe City of McMinnville worked with local businesses along the city's main street to provide outside dining. The program developed out of necessity in 2020 as pandemic restrictions forced many restaurants to offer outdoor seating. The city made certain streets car-free on weekends to provide an attractive and safe environment for outdoor dining.​​

Introduction and User Guide

Small and mid-sized cities across Oregon face a range of challenges and opportunities in their downtowns and main streets. As Oregon downtowns evolve, grow, and become more diverse and complex, downtown planners and advocates need solutions to ensure that downtowns remain welcoming, accessible, and enjoyable for all.

People stand in narrow alley between storefrontsThe Guidebook is written and designed for easy access, including callouts and sidebars with illuminating statistics and examples. Chapters are dedicated to specific topics including the downtown economy, housing, transportation, and form and placemaking. Each chapter addresses:

  • The role of downtowns;
  • Key issues, considerations, and opportunities;
  • Best practices, lessons learned, and successful approaches; and
  • An implementation guide.

Economy

Downtowns and business districts are commercial hubs of our communities. They are places where sales are generated, and jobs are created. Downtowns contribute to the quality of life for residents, workers, and visitors. This chapter highlights the importance of downtowns to a city's local economy and further describes how downtowns:

  • Have an outsized impact on a city's tax revenue,
  • Have significant multiplier effects throughout the city's economy, and
  • Are important for small business growth.
  • Case Studies: Independence, Coos Bay

Housing

Downtowns are critical to diversifying the types of local housing options that support affordability and choice. This chapter highlights the importanceI of downtowns in meeting cities' housing needs and describes how downtown housing:

  • Creates an active, vibrant community district that includes not only office workers and shoppers but permanent residents;
  • creates a downtown market for retail, amenities, and commercial services;
  • attracts and retains a qualified workforce as the convenience of downtown living appeals to those working nearby;
  • increases options for residents, particularly for rental and affordable units;
  • adds to the quality of life in downtown and the community;
  • enhances public safety with more eyes and ears paying attention to activity and adding people to the street during evening hours;
  • supports non-auto forms of transportation
  • Case Studies: Astoria, Cornelius

Transportation

A safe, connected, and accessible transportation system is fundamental to downtown development, land use, economy, and character. This chapter highlights the importance of the transportation system in downtowns and further describes how downtowns:

  • Prioritize people walking, biking, and taking transit while also accommodating carspeople driving;
  • Can better manage the use of public rights-of-way, parking areas, and supporting infrastructure;
  • Can provide a street network that is welcoming and supports ive of the local economy; and
  • Contribute to an interconnected, healthy, and vibrant community.
  • Case Studies: Klamath Falls, Ashland

Activation

As the economic, social, and cultural hubs of most small cities, downtowns should be dynamic places where people feel connected and welcomed to explore and enjoy. This chapter explores several aspects of placemaking and the way that downtowns can use design and programming to:

  • Foster civic pride;
  • Enable social connections;
  • Support small, local businesses and artists;
  • Attract families, visitors, and residents;
  • Encourage walking, and;
  • Improve public safety.
  • Case Studies: Independence, McMinnville

Inspiring Action and Implementation

Great streets, thriving businesses, and popular public spaces take effort, time, vision, and leadership. Vibrant Oregon Downtown's identifies basic steps and considerations that can help turn inspiration into action.

People sitting and conversing around tables with maps and figures out in front of them
  • Engage Downtown "Communities": Changes can affect different community members in different ways. Initiatives should start with an understanding of potential audiences, partners, and stakeholders.
  • Define the Vision: Successful ideas for a downtown start with an envisioned outcome and organized effort.
  • Create an Action Plan: Advancing new initiatives requires a shared vision and strategic leadership.
  • Measure Success and Celebrate Results: Organizers, project champions, and the broader community need ways to know about progress towards the vision.

 

​The following resources are available to learn more about Vibrant Downtowns.

Economic Development

Articles and Guidebooks

COVID-19 – Impacts on Cities and Suburbs: Key Takeaways Across Multiple Sectors, Urbanism Next
First – Next – Later; Safeguarding Small Businesses During the Pandemic: 26 Strategies for Local Leaders, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
The Impact of Oregon's Main Streets, Oregon Main Street

Websites

Main Street Approach Design Handbook, Main Street America
Navigating Main Streets as Places, Main Street America
Smart Growth America

Transportation

Articles and Guidebooks

Blueprint for Urban Design, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)
Guidelines for Regulating Shared Micromobility, National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks, Federal Highway Administration (FHA)
Urban Street Design Guide, National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

Websites

America Walks
Complete Streets Basic Resources, Smart Growth America
Designing Better Streets, National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
Healthy Places, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)​
Parking Management, Transportation and Growth Management Program (TGM)

Housing

Articles and Guidebooks

​At Home On Main Street, Main Street America
Housing Choices Guide Book, Transportation and Growth Management Program (TGM)
Oregon Metro Community Investment Toolkit, Oregon Metro
The Cost of Affordable Housing Development in Oregon, Meyer Memorial Trust
What's Up Downtown? A Playbook for Activating Oregon's Upper Stories, University of Oregon

Websites

Housing choices – Housing Bill 2001, Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD)
Oregon Housing and Community Services
New Market Tax Credits, Business Oregon

Public Spaces and Placemaking

Websites

Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking, Brookings Institution
ArtPlace America
Creative Placemaking, American Planning Association (APA)
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
National Endowment for the Arts
Project for Public Spaces

 

Contact

Aimée Okotie-Oyekan
Land Use and Transportation Planner
aimee.okotie-oyekan@dlcd.oregon.gov
Phone: 971-239-9451