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Salem, OR—Oregon Heritage, in partnership with University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research & Engagement (IPRE), announces the release of What’s Up Downtown? A Playbook for Activating Oregon’s Upper Stories. The report inventories the status of core buildings in some 33 Main Street communities across Oregon--specifically, their upper floors—identifies reasons for their disuse, and outlines potential ways to rejuvenate the spaces.

The project was undertaken by Oregon Heritage and IPRE to address a clear trend of growing vacancies in the upper floors of historic and downtown buildings. The objective was to determine the extent of available building spaces and to explore how to increase their use.

City and nonprofit organizations and property owners within the network of Oregon Main Street communities participated in surveys and interviews in spring 2022. The survey results affirm that upper story vacancy is common: nearly 50% of upper floors in their main street areas are unused and 19% are usable, but unoccupied.

Many of these buildings are historic, and at least a third of the communities surveyed have a National Register Historic District in their downtown.

“In the regular course of conducting business, Oregon Heritage saw how programs like the Federal Historic Tax Credit and Oregon Main Street Revitalization grants could bring new energy to old spaces,” said Kuri Gill, Grants and Outreach Manager. “Our communities have so many universal needs, like housing, work space, and new spaces for cultural events and community gatherings. We hope this report will help community leaders define some new possibilities for their downtowns.”

The most common problems with redeveloping upper floors were cost and the perceived complexity of code compliance. The study found that even when resources are available to support redevelopment, they are hard to find and access. The report recommends possible solutions at the state and local level, with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and property owners, including:
• Track conditions of upper stories over time.
• Develop a strategy for upper floor development.
• Improve property owner’s access to funding.
• Maintain existing and create additional financial supports at the state and local level.
• Support creative investment and financing strategies.
• Evaluate current building code and support responsible and flexible applications of the code.
• Organize and publicize existing technical resources.
• Collaborate with downtown development experts to remove the technical burden from individual property owners.
• Encourage collaboration at the local and between state and local actors.

In addition to the report, the project provides tools including an inventory guide, resource list and templates for project planning. The project team completed a pilot inventory with the Lebanon Downtown Association and used it to develop the guide to be used in communities throughout the state.

Cassie Cruz with Lebanon Downtown Association noted the value of the inventory tool. “The detailed sheet collects building information (e.g., owner info, size, current use, and capacity), which better equips committee members to speak with building owners on opportunities for housing and mix use spaces and is an educational tool for those new to the organization. And the inventory sheet is useful in case of a disaster.”

Charles Denight, with Pendleton Downtown Commission, enthusiastically responded to the project results. “I'll be using the ideas in these new documents to add to the tactics we're using to encourage upper story development. We won't rest until we have 100% full upper stories.”

Oregon Heritage includes Oregon Main Street, a program supporting downtown vitality that includes dozens of active communities across Oregon. It is a coordinating program of Main Street America. Oregon Heritage also assists with the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant and the Federal Historic Tax Credit Program through the State Historic Preservation Office.

To access the report and tools, funded in part by the Oregon Cultural Trust, visit the Oregon Heritage website at www.oregonheritage.org. For more information about Oregon Heritage contact Kuri Gill at 503-383-6787. To reach IPRE regarding their program and resources contact Aniko Drlik-Muehleck.

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