In an upbeat speech teaming with optimism, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis in his annual State of the City address called on residents to start dreaming.

To capitalize on the city's positive momentum and economic growth, he is convening a group to brainstorm ideas on how Gresham can become an even better community.

“While I firmly believe that Gresham is on the rise, I also want us to be purposeful in helping that rising tide continue,” Bemis said before an audience of 250 in the Mount Hood Community College's theater on Tuesday, March 12. “It has been a long time, perhaps dating back to our parents' generation, since this community has sat down together to ask what we can do to help Gresham — this place we love — thrive, as opposed to discussing which areas require cuts and disinvestment.”

The speech was a departure from prior annual addresses in which Bemis called for volunteers to help fill gaps caused by cuts in city services, or unveiled an innovative program to fill closed storefronts with new businesses.

Both efforts were resounding successes.

In the past year, 2,600 volunteers contributed more than 14,000 hours to the city.

The Garage-to-Storefront program, launched in 2010, created 144 new or expanding businesses and filled 225,000 square feet of vacant storefront by waived fees the city usually charges new OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Since the creation in 2010 of a fee holiday to encourage new businesses to set up shop in Gresham, the city's downtown core has experienced a renaissance.

Many of those new businesses have opened in downtown Gresham, creating a retail renaissance of sorts.

Major employers, such as Boeing of Gresham and ON Semiconductor, are investing millions and creating yet more jobs. Other industries — from banking to automotive sales — also are booming, as are local industrial parks. Since 2008, five new industrial parks have attracted 17 new companies with more than 600 employees.

Meanwhile, an assortment of capital projects are underway or marking OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A new $19.6 million courthouse opened in Gresham's Rockwood area last year and construction of a new police station is under way.

Gresham's gritty Rockwood area is home to a new courthouse and a totally revamped stretch of lightrail, complete with a redesigned MAX station and a vibrant, eye-catching art display at Northeast 188th Avenue and Burnside Street.

Last week, construction began on a new police station on Northeast 181st Avenue.

Main City Park is undergoing a major transformation. A new archway marks where the Springwater Trail connects to the park, and a ribbon of sidewalk now flows through the park to the downtown OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Gresham's Main City Park is getting a major overhaul, complete with a trailhead connecting the Springwater Trail to the downtown area.

City councilors are poised to approve a federal loan to fund a children's fountain at the Center for the Arts Plaza downtown.

Young families are taking notice and moving to the area, wooed by reasonable housing prices and a charming small-town feel, Bemis OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - More families are moving to Gresham, drawn by reasonable housing prices and hometown charm.

So what's next, the mayor asked.

“Is it a community center? More activity for youth? A Trader Joe's or a Macy's? Better parks or ball fields?”

On that last suggestion, members of the Gresham Nationals Little League sat up straight. The local team made international headlines last summer when it won the Northwest Regional Championship and competed in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

“More education infrastructure?” the mayor continued. “The first step to making the community a better place is getting together and dreaming a little, and I want to do just that.Mayor Shane Bemis

“We have spent too many years letting others define us instead of telling our own tremendously positive story. Optimists make investments, and those investments should lead us as we set about assessing the state of our city. … We've got a great energy building here, and now is the time to leave negativity and gloom at the door, because I'm telling you, together we are going to surge.”

Those in the audience said the speech was a nice reminder of all that's right with the city.

“We really thought it was great,” said Joyce Hope Lowe of Gresham, who attended speech with two friends who also live in Gresham. “We're gonna surge ahead but still remain family-oriented.”

“I am impressed with the things we are doing in Gresham,” said Idelle Shull. “We need to hear that, these positive things, and take pride in our community.”

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