Visions of murals, orchards and a hazelnut restaurant dance in Cornelius heads

Hardly anyone left the room when the Cornelius City Council meeting adjourned Monday night. Residents were too charged up about revitalizing their downtown after an hourlong presentation by Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants.

“I’m blown away,” Councilor Dave Schamp told Reeves. Before her presentation, “I was dubious. But now I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether to hug you or give you a standing ovation. I want to watch the tape 10 times to absorb everything you’ve said.”

About 25 people showed up to hear Reeves’ talk, which revealed the results of a study on ways to make downtown Cornelius more livable for residents and attractive to visitors.

Reeves spoke quickly but emphatically, going rapid-fire through more than 200 pages of a PowerPoint presentation, including numerous photographs of the town to illustrate her recommendations, such as holding a festival in the summer.

She suggested creating town entrances that simulate an orchard at each end of Adair and Baseline streets, which form a one-way couplet going through town. But she also suggested doing away with the couplet altogether, which she likened to “whooshing” down a wooden flume when driving through town.

“You should start studying un-coupling and pursue funding on how to do it,” she said. “Baseline should be the main highway and Adair a back street. Making street changes would have a huge impact.”

The town also has too many parking spaces and should eliminate parking minimums for buildings, she said, which would help with the expansion of St. Alexander Catholic Church.

“They want to build a green space but can’t because of parking minimums,” she said. Less parking would also allow the church to add another building that could be used for upstairs classrooms for the church and the nonprofit Centro Cultural, with retail spaces on the ground floor, she said.

Businesses would do better if they were more aesthetically appealing — even when they are closed — by incorporating murals, using bright paint or interesting lighting, or making even minor renovations.

“The town is half Anglo and half Latino, and you could use more Latino art,” she said. “Centro Cultural’s new building has no exterior expression of the Latino community.”

Every business should reflect Cornelius’ brand, Reeves said, and make its appearance more attractive to customers.

“The appearance of a building affects business,” she said. “And you can tell great stories from the sidewalk.”

But first, Cornelius has to decide what its brand will be. Reeves said the agricultural history of the town should be emphasized, and suggested shuttle bus tours from downtown to area farms and nurseries.

She also said the hazelnut factory should move to downtown and she used the cheese factory in Tillamook as an example of how that could work.

“It’s a big tourist attraction where you can see cheese being made and buy products,” she said. “You could also upgrade the retail at the hazelnut factory and add a restaurant that features hazelnut-oriented food.”

Some changes, such as repainting downtown businesses, could be done cheaply, but others, such as realigning the downtown couplet, would take intense financing, Reeves said.

The town should look at funding and other services offered by nonprofits such as Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon, MercyCorps Northwest and Craft 3, she said. Another option would be to team up with PSU’s School of Architecture to look at creative ways to use vacant spaces.

Reeves also said the town could reduce the high turnover of Latino start-up businesses by setting up retail and small-business technical assistance programs and working with the Forest Grove-Cornelius Chamber of Commerce to be all-inclusive to both the Anglo and Latino populations.

Reeves’ study, which included not only focus groups but intensive interviews of business owners and townspeople, was paid for by a $20,000 grant from Portland Metro, said City Manager Rob Drake.

The recommendations apparently struck a chord with many of the people who attended — some had been in focus groups Reeves conducted — and they stood around talking excitedly in small groups after the meeting ended.

Bob Ferrie, a former city councilor who hasn’t missed a council meeting in 20 years, said it was the biggest crowd he’d seen in a long time at a council meeting, which usually draws four or five people at most.

“I thought it was great,” he said of Reeves’ presentation. “It’s up to the council and mayor to see what happens next, but this was special.”

Schamp said he was surprised at how concrete and workable Reeves' recommendations were.

He later gave Reeves a big hug.

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