Consultant: city has strengths, but needs more curb appeal with Pacific University

There's good news for downtown Forest Grove.

Even though the city's Main Street seems sleepy, it's awash with color, fully stocked with restaurants and chock full of opportunity.

That's the word from Michele Reeves, founder of Civilis Consultants, a development consulting firm. Reeves has been hired by Metro to offer her take on what Forest Grove's downtown has going for it and how to leverage that into a more bustling atmosphere.

The major key to unlocking downtown's potential, Reeves said at a recent meeting of the city's economic development task force, is to link up the vision for downtown with Pacific University's master planning efforts.

'The fates of your downtown and your university are intertwined,' Reeves said.

That doesn't mean the city should let Pacific get whatever it wants. Instead, the city should push back and make sure the university's development plans aid the city's goals of fostering a busy, vibrant downtown.

Since 2010, Reeves has been working with Metro to lead workshops focused on downtown revitalization. Forest Grove is the sixth metro-area city to participate in this training program; Tigard, Oregon City, Gresham and Hillsboro have completed the program, and work in downtown Lake Oswego is under way. Metro is paying the $16,750 bill for Reeves' analysis of Forest Grove.

Her assessment of Forest Grove is focused on the same questions she's tackled in other cities. How do the stakeholders in downtown - the city, the landowners, the major tenants - all work together to lure as many active businesses that can create a vibrant cityscape?

That generally requires getting 'inactive' businesses like law offices or medical practices off the main drag in favor of stores and places people directly interact with.

'We never say, 'Hey, let's go have lunch in that district where there are a lot of chiropractors,'' Reeves said.

Reeves added that for the most part, Forest Grove's downtown is fairly active but it could use some sprucing up. She encouraged merchants to bring their goods out onto the street in order to make it clear to passersby what the shop was offering.

She also said the city should work to turn Pacific Avenue into a two-way street. Couplets in downtowns make it hard for drivers to navigate directly to where they're going.

'They don't encourage exchange,' Reeves said. 'People don't want to turn around.'

The city's downtown is also too easy to breeze past, Reeves said. She encouraged the audience to rethink how old developments like strip malls can be treated. Car-oriented developments can be made more pedestrian friendly by installing sidewalks and people-scale foliage.

The distance between downtown and McMenamins Grand Lodge - where Reeves' briefing was held - is another hurdle. People come to visit the Grand Lodge, then have a hard time finding downtown.

Reeves said her research showed that many people in the region don't know where Forest Grove is, or that Pacific University is in Forest Grove.

If the city and the university plan together, they could build a single reputation.

'This is probably the only college town in the region,' Reeves said.

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