HIS TASK? Provide renewed energy to a successful program
A few months ago, Jason McNeil was just one of those Portland residents who drive through Sandy, perhaps stopping briefly for a doughnut or tank of gas before traveling to a destination on or beyond Mount Hood.
But today, as Sandy Main Street manager, he's trying to find ways to get those passers-by to stop and buy more than a doughnut or tank of gas.
Main Street USA is a national, state and local program that seeks ways to revitalize the downtown areas of the nation's cities, making their image vibrant, inviting and eye-appealing.
The Main Street approach is being used in more than 1,800 cities in 45 states across the United States.
'Downtowns are important to communities,' McNeil said. 'They're the face of the community - the heart of the community. Having a thriving downtown district is important as an economic development tool.'
Planning Director Tracy Brown hired McNeil nearly a month ago to take up the tasks previously carried for 2½ years by Brown and former Associate Planner Suzanne Hicks.
McNeil's position also is temporary, but if he can find a permanent source of revenue it will become a long-term job.
In his position, he is involved in marketing, design and promotion of the downtown district as well as in economic development of the city.
Since the departure of Hicks from city staff, not much visible work has been done with Main Street, save First Friday events.
McNeil wants to get the volunteer committees active again. Of Main Street's four committees, Sandy has three with members ready to work: Promotion, Design and Economic Restructuring. An Organization Committee has not yet been formed, but it's on McNeil's work plan.
Roles of an Organization Committee would include fundraising and the training and support of volunteers.
McNeil's work plan, while it has specific tasks to accomplish, has overarching goals that include building relationships and bringing people together to achieve strategic goals.
It's a role that incorporates the best traits of Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) in 'The Music Man.'
McNeil provides the leadership, and local residents and business leaders provide the energy to give Sandy's downtown a rebirth.
Part of his job is to move Main Street away from City Hall, to make it a financially sustainable organization that does not rely on public funds for the majority of its support.
Main Street programs are sometimes supported with urban renewal dollars or government grants, but most often by business assessments and private grants. That is true, even though the public generally benefits if a city's economy is improved and home values generally rise when a city's image and reputation are enhanced.
'My goal (and the goal of Main Street),' he said, 'is to achieve an attractive, vibrant downtown Sandy.'
McNeil earned a bachelor's degree in community development at Portland State University and most recently worked for Polk County as an associate planner. Prior to that, he was the city of La Grande's Main Street Program coordinator, and he spent two years working with a University of Oregon program that offered planning services to small towns in Eastern Oregon. He is now working on his master's degree in urban and regional planning at PSU.
His part-time office hours include Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Meetings are best made by appointment, but he welcomes walk-ins whenever he is in the office.