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Urban revitalization: Can coffee transform downtown?

TIGARD - The writing's on the wall, literally.

Business owners hung a list on the wall when they met Tuesday to describe how they felt about their downtown and describe how they think other people feel about it.

Words they came up with to describe downtown Tigard were: 'old,' 'forgotten' and has 'no life.'

'Most visitors don't come here,' said Elise Shearer. 'It's a place you go through to get to someplace else.'

The business members met as part of urban consultant Michele Reeves' meetings on how to bring new life to the downtrodden Main Street.

Sponsored by Metro, Reeves has led monthly meetings with business leaders to brainstorm ways to revitalize the city's mile-long downtown.

For Tuesday's meeting, Reeves brought in Stacey Hallal, a consultant who works with large businesses to craft narrative frameworks for marketing campaigns.

It's a strategy that works with cities and downtowns as well, Hallal said.

'I see a lot of words like 'lifelessness' and 'emptiness' Hallal said. '…In the past there was a lot more activity and liveliness, but the story has changed from being a lively active member of the community to being a bit empty and abandoned physically.'

Just how that change will come is more complicated. Reeves has suggested a number of ideas to the business community, such as bringing in more 'destination' businesses, more coffee shops and restaurants and creating a downtown business association.

The city is already taking steps to improve downtown. Upcoming construction on Main Street will widen sidewalks, add street lighting and improve circulation. The result should discourage commuters from using the road as a Highway 99W shortcut.

Ultimately, Reeves said, what downtown Tigard needs to become is a community where people want to spend time.

'People's perception of (downtown) has been built over a long period of time,' she said when she met with business leaders earlier this year. 'They think that Main Street is in decline. To change that perception, you have to bring people here and give them a good experience.'