Leaders cite new store as a 'tipping point' for urban renewal
Three years ago when voters approved a $92 million urban renewal district for Rockwood and West Gresham, residents clamored for simple things.
A place to buy a birthday card or grab a cup of coffee. Less crime and more jobs would be great, too.
Now thanks to a new drug-free zone and police office, businesses are reporting fewer crimes. A new grant has created more than a hundred jobs. Even a drive-thru coffee business is on the horizon.
Gresham resident Curt Hugo is planning a Dec. 8 grand opening for his Dutch Bros. Coffee in the now vacant building off Southeast 187th Avenue and Stark Street.
The former Burgerville later became a drive-thru cigarette shop/convenience store, but has been vacant for years.
The drive-thru coffee kiosk is the kind of business city leaders hoped to attract when Gresham's Redevelopment Commission created three grant programs to attract businesses, spruce up existing ones and improve the area's rental housing stock, said Karylinn Echols, urban renewal commissioner.
'This is exactly what this grant fund is all about,' she gushed Thursday, Oct. 26, after the commission unanimously approved Hugo's $18,000 storefront improvement grant.
An espresso bar in Rockwood's core may seem like a small thing, but urban renewal watchers say otherwise.
'It's really one of those tipping points,' said Erik Kvarsten, Gresham's city manager.
Urban renewal districts are designed to use money from increasing property values to fund projects and improvements that will attract businesses, jobs and people.
In September, Gresham police opened a satellite office in Fred Meyer's old training center. The grocery store closed in January 2003, partly due to high shoplifting rates.
And this month, Rockwood's drug-free zone went into affect, allowing police to exclude alleged drug criminals from a designated area for 90 days. If they return within that time, officers can arrest them for trespassing and exclude them for a year.
Business owners say both additions are already having positive results.
Darwin Seim, who owns Mr. Transmission/Milex Auto Care at 18449 S.E. Stark St., said that since he opened shop a year ago, he's seen less graffiti.
Shortly after city councilors agreed in July to create the city's first drug-free zone in Rockwood, local business owners noticed a significant drop in what Seim calls 'tweaker traffic.' He can't remember seeing any obvious drug addicts in the past month, not even the five or six twitchy methamphetamine users considered neighborhood fixtures.
Seim said he didn't know about Rockwood's reputation as a high-crime and high-poverty area until he was ready to open for business last July.
Now, instead of seeing gang crime in Rockwood on the television news, such crime is now taking place in Aloha, Hillsboro and Beaverton, Seim said.
'I see those as the worst neighborhoods now,' he said, adding that he thinks the perception of Rockwood as 'gang central' is changing.
Rockwood's black eye has healed, he said. It's just that nobody has noticed.
Urban Renewal Commissioner Paul Warr-King said a variety of Rockwood-based programs - some big, like urban renewal, some small, like a group of Dexter McCarthy Middle School students who volunteer twice a month for projects such as picking up litter or cleaning up graffiti - are beginning to inspire community pride.
Case in point: Rockwood Solid Waste Inc. noticed litter outside a clinic on Stark Street. The company donated a garbage can, empties the can for free and now people are using it, Warr-King said.
'All of this is coming together,' Warr-King said.
Rebecca Ocken, Gresham's urban renewal manager, agrees. 'The snowball is starting to roll.'
The district's new industries grant program alone has resulted in 143 new jobs and new development worth $5.7 million.
'I think that in some ways this project reflects how urban renewal functions,' Ocken said of Dutch Bros. Coffee.
It's not a high profile development, like the 6.5-acre site of Rockwood's long-shuttered Fred Meyer that Gresham's urban renewal agency is redeveloping. But it shows that the tide is turning.
'It's a small step … but they matter,' Ocken said. 'It's a great indication that we're heading in the right direction.'
Hugo, 37, opened a Dutch Bros. Coffee kiosk at Southeast 162nd and Stark Street in January of 2003 before voters approved the urban renewal district.
Now he plans to invest $68,000 into a building he's leasing at 18701 S.E. Stark St. More than half the money will be spent on storefront improvements, making him eligible for the district's storefront improvement grant program.
'This place is going to look really nice,' Hugo said one chilly morning while assessing the property.
Now covered with gang graffiti and broken glass, Hugo has already pulled the old Burgerville's landscaping plans, which he'll base the coffee kiosk's landscaping on. After all, the sprinkler system is already in place, so it makes sense to use it and plant trees and shrubs accordingly.
The building's design as a drive-thru first attracted Hugo. Although there is no inside seating, Hugo is considering adding a walk-up window. There's already a cement table and benches out front.
But the urban renewal agency's plans to redevelop the old Fred Meyer site across the street 'played a factor in my willingness to invest there,' Hugo said.
He'd already committed to the project when he heard about the new drug-free zone, in which his business will be located, plus Gresham's police office. But both will have a hugely positive effect on business, he said.
Hugo also hopes to have a positive influence on the area. A high-traffic business staffed by five to seven employees is bound to drive troublemakers away.
Kathie Minden, a Rockwood advocate who has opposed some suggested improvements such as a justice center, is thrilled about Dutch Bros. Coffee opening up in the heart of Rockwood.
'It is one of the first amenities to bring a touch of class to the community,' she said. ' … I'm ready for my mocha.'
Three grants apply to renewal district
Three kinds of grants are available through the Rockwood West-Gresham Urban Renewal District.
• Apartment rehabilitation grants - Apartment building owners who want to rejuvenate the quality, appearance and/or security of their rental housing can apply for grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. The program pays for half of the improvements. For example, someone who qualifies for a $5,000 grant would still have to spend $5,000 of their own money for $10,000 worth of improvements.
Grants totaling $38,400 have been awarded to the Rockwood Station Apartments, 19100 E. Burnside St.; Hidden Villa Apartments, 618 S.E. 187th Ave.; and Rockwood Apartments, 911 S.E. 187th Ave. Almost $112,000 in grant funding is still available through June 30.
• New industries grants - Designed to provide incentives to industrial companies to make at least $500,000 in capital investments and create jobs that pay at least $15 a hour in the urban renewal district's industrial and business park areas. Four grants totaling nearly $266,500 in grant funding have been awarded to Denton Plastics, 18811 N.E. San Rafael St.; Coral Biotechnology, 18032 N.E. Airport Way; NBS Real Estate Capital and Benson Industries, 18403 N.E. Halsey St.; and Westech Construction, 2204 N.E. 194th Ave. About $50,000 in grant funding is still available until June 30.
• Storefront improvement grants - Business and commercial property owners who want to spruce up their buildings can apply for grants that will provide $5,000 to $20,000 for lighting, signs, paint and the like. The program only pays for half of the improvements. So far, two grants totaling $33,000 have been awarded to an office building known as The 800 Building on 181st Avenue and Dutch Bros. Coffee at Southeast 187th Avenue and Stark Street. Approximately $42,000 in grant funding is still available until June 30.
For more details on the grant programs, contact Michael Parkhurst, urban renewal project coordinator, 503-618-2416. Information, including maps of program boundaries, also is available at www.ci.gresham.or.us.