COOS BAY — After years of economic downturn and stagnation, Coos Bay’s downtown appears to be on the road to recovery.
Within the next few months, the area will add a total of six new businesses, with others filling gaps in and around it.
“This is the most activity around here I’ve seen in fifteen years,” said Councilor Stephanie Kramer, who chairs the city’s Urban Renewal Agency (URA).
According to Tom Dixon, Coos Bay’s planning administrator, unlike the past two years, which saw several businesses shuffle in and out of various buildings downtown, the new ones moving in should be there to stay for the long haul.
“One of the indicators I’m seeing is that the people that are coming in now are spending money for upgrades which usually means they are in it for longer investment time,” he said. “I think that points to more stable tenancy for those spaces.”
And that stability is important for future growth and better business prospects, Dixon argued. “You always want to have options for new businesses but you also want to have a level of continuity and certainty that businesses are going to stay in the downtown area.”
Dixon said he was fairly confident the new businesses would stick around, as most of the companies setting up shop downtown are locally owned and operated.
Barrels Bar, off Central Avenue, which offers craft cocktails, live piano and select menu items opened earlier this month. Across the street, The Social, a live-music and event venue opened its doors in February. Both are owned by Brandon Thurman, son of E. L. Edwards Realty II, Inc. owner, Kris Thurman.
Northwest Fitness recently moved its flagship location from Seattle to 217 S. Broadway, next door to the Egyptian Theatre.
Owner Henry Delaney said he expected the 15,000 square-foot space to be ready for gym members by May.
In January, Coos Bay’s URA approved a $25,000 facade improvement grant for Northwest Fitness’ newly acquired property.
Delaney said the funds helped with aesthetics and would allow his business to align itself with the city’s greater vision for its renewal district.
“We are new to the community so we want to do our best to steward what (city council) wants with downtown,” he said.
Delaney estimated that restoring the building will cost him around $750,000. The work includes seismic retrofitting.
Other businesses joining the area include two recreational marijuana dispensaries on Highway 101 and a 13,500 square foot Natural Grocers at the 500 block between North Broadway and Bayshore Drive, where Kozy Kitchen is currently located.
Natural Grocers' site is expected to begin development this Spring while the dispensaries will most likely open within the next few months, according to city staff.
Shaun Gibbs, economic development specialist for the South Coast Development Council (SCDC), said the new businesses should be a boon for the local economy.
“Anytime there’s small businesses moving downtown it’s obviously going to help,” he said. “One thing that we look at is how much are these owners spending on rebuilding their spaces and how many jobs their businesses create.”
Gibbs said a new business typically brings two to three new jobs to the area. “These trends are definitely starting to show downtown is coming back.”
Gibbs said SCDC’s long-awaited REEF project, which has stumbled out the gate as it searches for a new location following a breakdown in negotiations with the American Building’s owner on Central Avenue, could also provide some much needed foot traffic for the area.
The project aims to provide space for local entrepreneurs and new businesses while also streamlining permitting and other legal processes required to start a business.
Jim Berg, owner of North Point Real Estate and Development, is a sitting member on Coos Bay’s Planning Commission.
He said that while downtown is an attractive place to open a business, the recovery process takes time, especially for a small, relatively isolated community like Coos Bay.
“Certainly things are happening,” he said. “We’re just kind of waiting for some of the backstreets to start to fill in. It’s always pretty easy to get property leased right along (Highway) 101 but going back two or three blocks is a bit more risky.”
The fears associated with such risks will hopefully be alleviated as investors’ confidence in the economy rises, according to Timm Slater, executive director of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I think we can see from stuff going on currently is that a lot of people have a view of the economy moving in the right direction,” he said. “The (national) unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since the early 2000s, so there’s a lot of positive indicators, not just for the whole country but also locally. It’s more of a sign that in our area and the state of Oregon that (people) have expectations that things are gonna roll along better than they have.”
It is that newfound confidence from entrepreneurs and investors that Berg said he hopes will be capitalized on before more economic woe rears its ugly head.
“It’s just a matter of trying to move ahead before we have another backswing,” he said.