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Behind the scenes with Main Street

Group wants to become a nonprofit and create interest in downtown businesses
by: Jim Hart, While other downtown Sandy businesses were entertaining nighttime customers during First Friday, the Sandy public library turned itself into a European cafe with all library services available. Entertainment was provided by guitar virtuoso Mary Flower, seated at left in distance. First Friday is an activity of growing popularity organized by the promotion committee of Sandy Main Street.

When Sandy Main Street and the city of Sandy have improved the appearance of downtown Sandy, where do they go from there?

The challenge is to determine how to help businesses thrive as well as support the local economy.

George Hoyt, Sandy Main Street steering committee chairman, says there are many things that can be done to improve Sandy's business climate.

Sandy Main Street has had significant accomplishments over the past three years, and is now re-evaluating its goals and activities in order to ensure future progress.

Its overall goals could be described as enhancing the downtown core in ways that make it more likely businesses will succeed.

In the middle of all of the planning are Hoyt and Sandy Main Street Director Jason McNeil, who said he'd like to see a smart phone application for downtown Sandy that would explain what each participating business has to offer.

Becoming a nonprofit

Along with several promotional activities, Sandy Main Street is trying to establish itself as a nonprofit organization - separate from the city of Sandy - and not depend solely on the city to fund a part-time director.

With nonprofit status, the program could accept grants and charitable donations to help pay for its activities.

Hoyt says that could be accomplished with an economic improvement district (EID) - similar to a local improvement district - where local businesses collectively support Sandy Main Street and reap its benefits.

'The EID is a district that has been approved by legislation in the state of Oregon,' Hoyt said, 'so there are a series of ground rules to follow.'

One of the first steps, Hoyt said, is to distribute information and answer business owners' questions about the EID, which he says is not a taxing district.

'It's an assessment district,' he said, 'that depends on the willingness and commitment of property owners to join and contribute financially as well as participate in the activities we undertake.'

Planning ahead

Sandy Main Street's current thrust is to write a plan for the years ahead, detailing proven activities that have the potential of enlivening the boulevards between Bluff and Ten Eyck roads.

'We're really in the organizational stage,' Hoyt said.

'We have a new logo,' McNeil said, 'and we're working on some new marketing materials. We're almost ready to start an outreach to businesses and property owners to find out what they need and what we can do to help them.'

Another committee, called the economic restructuring committee, is doing a market analysis to determine what new businesses would be welcomed and are needed.

Its members also might distribute information about doing business in Sandy to targeted business owners in nearby cities - in the hopes they would choose to relocate. They also have an inventory of available space and could pass that information onto potential tenants.

On the national scene

Hoyt recently returned from a trip to Baltimore, where he attended the conference of National Main Street and described it as 'an eye-opener.'

From his four and a half days at the national convention, Hoyt has returned to Sandy with a treasure trove of ideas. He expects to be distributing some of the best concepts, where requested, to Sandy Main Street's committees to see if they can make them work.

'The idea is to enhance each committee's work,' Hoyt said, 'with some of the ideas and opportunities that I saw (at the convention).'

As a field trip, Hoyt visited Fredricksburg, Md., and gained a lot of ideas from that city's successes.

Fredricksburg has been a Main Street devotee for 25 years.

The city of Sandy is helping with another activity that will assist people not familiar with Sandy to easily find the location(s) they seek. That group is called the way finding committee, and its task is focusing on proper signage around town to help Sandy's visitors find what they are seeking.

Sandy finds its way

In summary, Hoyt said one of the important lessons he learned was that a lot of the successful Main Street programs 'were formed and driven by adversity.'

'In Fredricksburg,' he said, 'the whole town flooded out. The whole town was wiped out, and what they did (in recovery) was substantial. Others were hit by tornadoes, while still others were bypassed by a highway or affected by a big box store.'

The city of Sandy doesn't fit that mold, Hoyt said, and will have to find its own way to support business success.

Certainly the steering committee, guided by Hoyt, will contribute to the overall effort - which the committee hopes will benefit all local residents with an improved economy and vibrant commercial zone.

For more information, call McNeil at 503-489-2173.