Helping the Grove blossom
Revitalization -- Jeff King looks back on his first year as the city's economic development director
First of two parts.
A year ago, Jeff King signed on as Forest Grove's first economic development director. Although most of his focus has been on industrial development, King has kept a close watch on the city's retail core as well.
Last week he took some time to answer a few questions about how the past 12 months have gone, what he's learned along the way and how he sees the city's retail future.
Q:When friends and other out-of-towners ask, 'So, what's Forest Grove like?' what's your short answer?
A:I honestly tell them that it's a great place to live and work. I explain that we are in the center of the Oregon experience.
We are on a frequent bus route, only six miles from light rail, and only 10-12 miles from the Tanasbourne area. Yet right in our back yard we have the Coast Range, Tillamook State Forest, fishing, wineries, golfing, bird watching, Hagg Lake, scenic bicycle routes, farm stands, etc.
Q:But what about cultural amenities?
A: We have arts and entertainment events offered by Pacific University, McMenamins, SakéOne, Valley Art, Theatre in the Grove and other groups.
We have a historical downtown, a historic district, Pacific University, a low crime rate, and an attractive physical appearance with well kept infrastructure and lot of trees and urban greenery.
I also mention that we are growing. We are adding new high quality housing stock and people are coming here because it is more affordable and a good place to live.
Q:What's your take on downtown Forest Grove.
A:I'm bullish on the future of downtown given emerging demographics and recent activity, but it will take some work. The downtown still has some traditional anchors like Van Dyke Appliances, Paterson Furniture and Frye's Action Athletics. There are also some interesting entrepreneurs adding life to the downtown such as the Ice Cream Shoppe, A Framers Touch, Forest Theater, Maggie's Buns, the Scooter Shop and Café Maffei.
Q:What else does downtown have going for it?
A:Another positive aspect is that the downtown is adjacent to a growing university while the city is experiencing growth, particularly families with higher income.
The city also is somewhat unique on the west side in that there is a true downtown with a number of historical buildings that have character.
A number of buildings have been renovated.
We have a population of 153,000 within ten miles, many with good incomes.
Q:What are the challenges?
A:Chains, which look for high-traffic areas with adequate parking, will not located here.
But small independents that offer unique dining experiences or specialty goods or services could work. With several lots in the downtown along 19th and A Street for sale, there is a good opportunity for a redevelopment project such as a small mixed use with condos on top and new retail/commercial space on the first floor. The downtown also has regular bus service.
Q:What about the public's desire for a restaurant featuring fine-dining?
A:We are working with a local downtown property owner in developing a fine-dining restaurant along with another retail project that has real potential.
Q:What can the city do to help?
A:The city can be a facilitator. To provide information from surveys and other demographic and market study information to show potential restaurant owners the opportunity.
This also means marketing to potential restaurant organizations, chains and independents looking to expand.
Q:And locally? What does that mean?
A:It means working with local property owners and potential investors. It may be helping to find money to renovate a site or purchase equipment. For example in the downtown, we are working with a local downtown property owner to establish an upscale dining facility in a historical building. We are securing $80,000 in funds from the state to contribute to the project.
Meanwhile, out on Pacific Avenue we are working to get vacant commercial land back on the market so we work to attract a family restaurant.
Finally, the city is spending $2 million on new sidewalks and streetscape improvements that will improve the attractiveness.
Q: How do you envision the downtown of the future?
A:While the downtown will never be the retail center of yesteryear, the downtown can be revitalized by becoming a blend of a few traditional anchors, services, quality and diverse dining opportunities, specialty retail, mixed use housing and a place for festivals and other events.
Q:What's the one thing you wish you could get in Forest Grove, but can't.
A:Good clothing and shoes
Q:If Wal-Mart sets up just outside the city in Cornelius, what will the effect be in Forest Grove?
A:The main concern with Wal-Mart will be the added congestion to the roads and how well our key intersections hold up. However the busy peaks should be on the days or times when most of our industrial businesses are closed.
There will be traffic impact for residents. The impact on our business base will be mixed.
Q:What about the effect on local merchants?
A:Given our existing business mix in Forest Grove, I don't think anyone will go out of business. A couple of businesses could lose some sales but could make it up with customer service and other strategies.
With the draw of Wal-Mart several complimentary commercial businesses could be attracted out along Pacific Avenue. So we should see a net gain in investment and employment in Forest Grove over the longer term.
Next week: Taking stock of the local industrial base.