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Launching a downtown revival

A regionally renowned urban strategist is coming to Lake Oswego to help make over downtown.

Next week, Michele Reeves, a Portlander with an extensive history working in commercial real estate, development consulting, project management and retail leasing, will kick off a four-part program aimed at involving property owners, business owners and other stakeholders in improving downtown.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Waluga Masonic lodge, 417 Second St.

Jane Blackstone, Lake Oswego's economic development manager, said she recently spoke with representatives of Hillsboro, which wrapped up Reeves' process this month.

'They felt it was so helpful,' she said. 'It really validated that we should give this a try and gain as much value as we can.

'She has a very collaborative approach to working with property owners, tenants, cities and downtown organizations to identify opportunities in downtown cores for physical improvements, and programmatic improvements, that will help to stimulate economic activity,' Blackstone said of Reeves.

Working in partnership with regional government Metro, the city will pay about $7,500 for the service.

Sitting outside of Chuck's Place on a recent morning, Reeves said she takes 'a nontraditional approach' to downtown revitalization, working backward from models of success instead of following the traditional report-based route.

'How do you look at what's working and apply it to what's not?' she said. 'What about the built environment makes it successful?'

The work product is more about the hands-on process than production of a report, although Reeves will eventually make recommendations. Her curriculum is designed for a place like Lake Oswego, she said, which already has a strong foundation to build on, with a mix of businesses and some infrastructure. But it seems 'most people feel downtown should have a little more name recognition,' and a little more 'vibrancy,' she said. In other words, downtown might not be operating at its full potential, from an economic standpoint.

Throughout the process, Reeves will help business and property owners consider how things like parking lots and building colors affect potential customers' views of their storefronts, and she'll help everyone analyze the overall concept of downtown, which seems to have shrunk over the years.

In all, Reeves will facilitate four sessions, starting with identifying the components of a great downtown. During the second session, sometime in early 2012, she will work with stakeholders to apply fundamentals from the first session to the downtown area, dissecting it business by business and block by block. The third session involves a field trip, possibly to somewhere in Southeast or North Portland, followed by a fourth meeting focused on marketing.

Reeves cautioned that although she uses other metro areas as examples, the process won't lead to Lake Oswego's downtown being a copycat of somewhere else.

'It's not about turning any downtown into another place,' she said. 'It's about generic lessons learned from others' experiences. … It helps to look at a successful community and consider its experiences.'

Although the focus is now on downtown, the results will affect the entire city, she said, because of the tax-base benefits of a strong downtown, 'a huge engine for economic development.'

And downtown is 'the place you come to experience the community fabric and human experience of being a part of Lake Oswego.'

Participants are crucial to the revitalization process.

'Revitalization comes from people,' Reeves said. 'The bottom line is great places come from great connections between people.'

And at the end of the day, it will be up to local property and business owners to implement her recommendations.

'We're here to give people real ideas of some things they can do,' she said, whether it happens this year, next year or over the next decade.