Experts to assess Sweet Home Jan. 29

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

What needs to change in Sweet Home?

That’s a key question that will be addressed Tuesday, Jan. 29, when representatives of Cascade West Council of Governments and Oregon Downtown Development Association visit the city’s commercial district.

Vicki Dugger of ODDA and Pam Silbernagle of CWCOG will provide an assessment of strengths, weaknesses and lay out the potential they see for development of Sweet Home’s business district.

This will be the second assessment performed on the commercial area in the last decade. The last, performed in 2003 by ODDA staff members, included a written report with suggestions for sprucing up the downtown area visually and making it more attractive to tourists. Some of its suggestions were implemented, such as the development of the median along Main Street to help soften the town’s visual appeal and the façade improvement program that has been sponsored by Sweet Home Economic Development Group, which commissioned the 2003 study.

The day will include a driving tour of the town, lunch, visits with business and property owners, a seminar on developing and recruiting business, and a community meeting.

City Manager Craig Martin said he hopes this event will draw interest from residents and business owners.

“Basically, what I hope we will get is good participation from the business community, from property owners, and even residents in the community, just to learn more about what the experts think we have as opportunities and challenges in our commercial sector, and bringing new businesses into the community,” Martin said.

ODDA is an organization that works primarily with smaller rural communities, such as Sweet Home. It has a track record of success in some smaller communities, such as Joseph, Martin said.

“(ODDA) planted seeds but the community is really what made that happen,” he said of the changes made in Joseph. “It was a collective effort of business, private property owners and the city.”

Silbernagel of the Cascade West COG, is a planner, community development expert.

“The nice thing about Pam is she’s worked in our community on several projects,” Martin said. “She has a pretty good feel of the community.

He said that while local residents might view the vacant storefronts along Main and Long streets with concern, Dugger and Silbernagle may see them as “a great opportunity.

Martin encourages business property owners to get involved, since the assessment team’s visit may lead to chances to strategically recruit businesses that would fit well into the community, meet needs in Sweet Home and draw commerce from tourists.

“This is a chance to recruit either inside or outside community businesses that not only will be successful but help other businesses,” he said.

Martin said he senses a spirit of optimism in the community, stemming from the residential development that’s occurring, which he hopes will lead to results following the assessment.

“This is an opportunity to capitalize on that right now,” he said. “I just think this is a good opportunity right now to actually take on some sort of long-term project. I think we have the energy and intiative to see it through to some sort of implementation.”

He emphasized that organizers of the assessment are looking for community participation on Tuesday.

“We’re going to talk about concerns,” he said. “To me, success is not so much what (the assessment) says, but participation.”

One of the concerns sure to be addressed is parking in the downtown area, Martin said, though, he added, it isn’t as big a problem as it would be if more storefronts had thriving businesses in them.

“A parking issue is a problem I’d like to have,” he said.

To RSVP for the luncheon or for more information about the day’s activities, call Martin at 367-8969 or e-mail him at [email protected].