REEDSPORT — In the span of a couple of years, a group of residents has taken several steps — some small, some large — to bring life back to Old Town.
The effort seems to be paying off, including with attention from state officials and from other communities.
Roughly 40 people turned out in late April to get an update and perspectives on the Second Annual Main Street Program at the Reedsport Community Center.
"We started this over a year ago, and we started it with a lot of ideas," City Manager Jonathan Wright said.
"We've had city managers coming from other towns and saying 'How did you do that?'" he added.
"We kept it simple," he said. Residents, city leaders and others focused on what they could achieve.
Just as one example, volunteers wanted to highlight the area's rich timber history. They've been renovating a steam logging donkey for a new pocket park that will be located across from Hahn Park.
"We took low-hanging fruit," the city manager said. "We have a lot of things that are in progress."
New awnings have spruced up several buildings in Old Town.
Mayor Linda McCollum also addressed the crowd, which had assembled at the community center.
"It's been a good year," she said. "We've done a lot. Look at the banners back here on the wall."
"Thanks for stopping. Reedsport Main Street. Come Back Soon!" reads one. Another reads "Welcome to Uptown Reedsport Main Street Stop Shop Discover!"
Main Street Coordinator Katie Lockard said three groups are helping bring the revitalization effort to fruition. They are promotions, economic development and the board of directors.
Community members started the Reedsport Main Street Program Dec. 3, 2014.
DeeDee Murphy sees a connection between tourism and Main Street.
Murphy said Lockard, who grew up in Reedsport and graduated from Reedsport High School, has knowledge of the town.
The city councilor and Reedsport/Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce member saw about 38 vacant storefronts several years ago. Out-of-state people owned the buildings, and Murphy said the empty structures reflected poorly on the community. Yet over time, she said, merchants have been more cooperative in cleaning up their properties.
Murphy credited Lockard with persistently contacting out-of-state owners, encouraging them to improve their properties.
"There's still work to be done," the councilor admitted, but she pointed proudly to the façade program, business awnings and other endeavors.
Murphy has served on the council since January 2013 and lived in Reedsport since April 1993.
The state program is known as Oregon Main Street, which is part of Main Street America.
According to a document from Oregon.gov, Oregon Main Street provides help, technical service and training to residents who want to preserve, strengthen and revitalize their "historic downtown commercial districts."
Lockard explained more of Main Street.
"Traditionally, Main Street Programs focus on the commercial downtown section, putting a lot of attention into revitalizing one spot," she said. "Because Reedsport's downtown is so small and because it does not make sense to exclude the rest of town, we are unusual among Main Street Programs in how encompassing we are of our entire town," the coordinator said. "Every Main Street Program is unique to its community, but I believe that if we took our attention too far away from our actual 'main street,' we would not be as competitive if we were to apply for funding from the state and national level."
"We have to meet certain requirements to be considered a 'Main Street Program' in order to receive all of the benefits of participating in that organization," Lockard said. "In addition, narrowing our focus to just the main street can help us be more effective at making improvements, improvements that will ultimately boost the entire community."
The philosophy isn't unique to Oregon. To give their own towns a boost, residents across America have experimented too, trying the program in more than 2,200 communities in 40 states. This has been with "the help of the National Main Street Center and statewide downtown revitalization programs," according to the Oregon.gov Oregon Main Street publication.
Some information from the 2010 "Performing Main Street" listed what happened in several communities, including Albany, Baker City, Corvallis, McMinnville, Oregon City, Salem and Roseburg.
The towns saw a total of $15.21 million in public and private investments in improvements.
Secondly, workers finished 100 building improvements. Through the program, the Oregon communities gained a net of 65 new businesses and 218 new jobs. Volunteers put in 12,110 hours and organizers estimated the monetary value of volunteer time at $223,458.
Lockard noted the following.
"The Oregon Main Street also provides funding through grants," she said. "Being associated with the National Main Street Program makes us eligible for National Trust funding and other related resources."
Although the program continues to strengthen Reedsport, more remains to be done.
"We need to mature as an organization," Lockard said. "That means building our volunteer capacity, creating a self-sufficient funding structure and incorporating short- and long-term project planning. These things will help the organization outlast any single participant while creating a process that will help us stay productive in the long run."
The coordinator also provided a big-picture perspective.
"People need to know that our program is not something run by the city or staffed by some outside organization," Lockard said. "We are made up of volunteers from the community. The things we work on are the projects our volunteers would like to see happen. I think people in our town need to be reminded that they can have an incredible impact to help change things for the better."
"Whether through the RMSP or through individual efforts, if everyone will take ownership of Reedsport, keep a positive attitude, be proud, be friendly, and remember that we're all in this together, our community will do great things," she emphasized.
Any Reedsport Main Street committee sessions are open to the public. For more information, contact Lockard at 541-271-3603, ext. 217, or through www.ReedsportMainStreet.com.