Hermiston’s downtown district has added more than $8 million in assessed value in just four years.
The blossoming of new and improved features has come in many forms, both public and private, and it’s not done yet.
“There’s lots of good news,” city planner Clint Spencer said.
While large public projects like the festival street and Harkenrider Center — both under construction now — have been taking up most of the attention, Spencer said private businesses have also taken the initiative to complete projects on their own to enhance downtown.
A group of business owners meet regularly as the Hermiston Downtown District, whose mission is to “revitalize, enhance, and maintain the economic, social, aesthetic, and cultural environment of Hermiston’s historic downtown area.” On Monday they discussed beautification projects they have taken on, including flower baskets and a “pocket park” project they are planning for the large courtyard in the 200 block of Main Street.
Susie Bendixsen, office manager for Bendixsen Law, which looks out into the courtyard, said they would like to add planters and possibly a shade tree and wrought-iron benches similar to those in city parks.
“If somebody wants to go outside and eat a sandwich they’ll have a place to do that,” she said. “There’s not a lot of places to sit downtown.”
Bendixsen said business owners raised some money for the project last year with the help of RARE planner Emma Porricolo and will likely take turns watering the landscaping to save on irrigation costs.
Main Street is a brighter, more vital place than it was four years ago when the city council created the Hermiston Urban Renewal District to focus on downtown revitalization. During a presentation to the city council on Monday night, Spencer counted 27 total projects downtown since 2013 — 13 private projects, four public projects and 10 spearheaded by private entities that received assistance from the city or urban renewal agency.
The result has been a 20 percent increase in assessed property values, from $42.3 million in 2013 to $50.6 million at the end of 2017. Spencer said about half of the increase can be attributed to the new Holiday Inn Express that opened in late 2016.
The urban renewal agency (overseen by a committee made up of all city councilors) gets its money by freezing the amount of property taxes going to taxing districts like the fire district at 2013 levels for the next 20 years, then skimming off the extra revenue generated by property value increases in that urban renewal district to funnel back into projects that will push property values even higher.
Some property owners have made improvements without the help of the urban renewal agency, such as the extensive remodel and expansion completed by the owners of the Mexican restaurant La Palma, the transformation of the old Pendleton Grain Growers building into NAPA Auto Parts and the completion of the Maxwell Siding Event Center by Mitch Myers. Affordable Family Eyewear is also working to remodel the building on the corner of Gladys Avenue and Northeast Third Street before opening there this summer.
Others have gotten help sprucing up their storefronts from a façade grant program started by the agency. A few of those include Julissa’s Meat Market, Lucky Endz Gifts, the East Oregonian, Simmons Insurance Agency, Holiday Inn Express and State Farm insurance agent LuAnn Davidson. Public-private partnerships also include a deal made by Mitch Myers and the city to allow the public to use parking that Myers is building along the railroad tracks.
As for public projects, Hermiston Energy Services recently replaced old utility poles downtown with more decorative lighting, complete with hooks and irrigation for hanging flower baskets. Spencer said the urban renewal agency plans to expand that lighting throughout the downtown district (which is bordered by Ridgeway Avenue, Highland Avenue, Southwest Sixth Street and Southeast Seventh Street) and add decorative wayfinding signs, additional landscaping and possibly arches leading into areas of downtown.
The capstone of the urban renewal district is the festival street currently under construction. When complete, the block of Northeast Second Street bordering city hall will feature landscaping, decorative brickwork and lighting, a more pedestrian-friendly design and the ability to be blocked off for events. Spencer said while the city and local groups like the farmers market hope to hold events there to draw people downtown, it will also be available for reserving by residents similar to shelters available at city parks.
Future phases of the festival street with push it farther along Second Street and add a fountain to the parking lot across from city hall.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.