|Nov 14, 2012 --
Like so many small towns these past few decades, downtown Cottage Grove has seen its vitality as the community’s economic and social center fade as retail, building occupancy and overall traffic on Main Street have declined. The historic city center was laid out and constructed as the community’s small, but bustling hub near the turn of the last century. Over the years, changes in lifestyle, business models, traffic patterns, and overall growth diverted activity away. In addition, the small town of just 9,686 is conveniently located on an interstate just 20 miles from a major population center. As such, Cottage Gove today is home to many who prefer a quiet, small-town residential environment, but who work, shop and do business in the nearby Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area.
In recent years, involved community members began a series of efforts to diminish the leakage of economic activity away from the Main Street district. An important step was taken in 2005, when the city and its partners completed the Cottage Grove Downtown Revitalization and Refinement Plan to address transportation issues averting vehicles and foot traffic away from Main Street. Community members took another key step by forming a volunteer Economic Development Committee working in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to promote job creation downtown and throughout the community. Next, local volunteers formed the Cottage Grove Community Development Corporation to lead a long-term economic development program and provide business assistance to help new and existing businesses succeed. In addition, Cottage Grove joined the Oregon Main Street Program to benefit from historic preservation training and technical assistance to improve the economy based on the community’s unique assets, character and heritage. These combined efforts have significantly increased the capacity among Cottage Grove’s leaders, businesses and residents to plan and implement a locally appropriate and effective downtown economic development effort. To date, a number of activities have been planned and initiated to revitalize a historic downtown to meet the community’s 21st Century needs:
• A collaborative group of local stakeholders, which includes business owners, city officials and volunteers, initiated long-term planning efforts to promote economic development, downtown revitalization, and historic preservation.
• Strategic planning assistance and a series of business workshops and have been made available to stabilize existing businesses and attract new enterprises to the downtown corridor.
• A small, beautiful corner park called All-American Square was developed, and decorative hanging baskets were placed along sidewalks.
• Local volunteer activities were stepped up to maintain parks, downtown benches, trash cans, bike racks, etc. through the Cottage Grove Economic and Business Improvement District (EBID).
• The City removed a dilapidated and dangerous building to make additional downtown property available for redevelopment.
• The Oregon Main Street Program facilitated a planning session with 50 downtown businesses and property owners to develop needs and priorities for improvements.
• Because of their success generating local involvement and investment, the City applied for and was awarded a competitive grant through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) to complete a key component of the Downtown Revitalization and Refinement Plan. The $15,000 award contributed to a $30,000 project to install directional signage and an archway leading visitors to the Main Street corridor and indicating the availability of parking.
• Planners have identified modifications for two key intersections on Main Street to improve access and safety for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians entering the downtown area.
• Bike lanes have been added to downtown roadways, and improved crosswalks, wider sidewalks, attractive landscaping, and a relocated bus stop have all been installed to improve pedestrian access.
These and other ongoing efforts have created an inviting and active downtown. Cottage Grove’s historic district today boasts an intact collection of turn-of-the-century buildings that not only provide an historic experience, but are once again home to an increasing number of small businesses. In fact, since the directional signage and downtown archway were completed in the spring of 2012, six new downtown businesses opened their doors and two businesses expanded operations.
“Directional signage is critical for a vibrant and sustainable downtown core. The construction of the gateway arch and associated directional signage has provided a noticeable improvement to the visibility and accessibility of downtown Cottage Grove. We see this through the retention of existing businesses and the addition of new businesses. We also see this through the number of visitors coming to our downtown,” explains Sarah Mizejewski, director of Cottage Grove’s Community Development Corporation.
Randy Deering, who owns Apple Pie Antiques in downtown Cottage Grove, says the improvements are important for small businesses. “The Arch to me is a symbol of the past hard work, a renewed cohesiveness of the Cottage Grove business community, and a salute to the future work to be done as well as the ‘open for business’ attitude, despite the economic decline,” he said.
“Prior to the installation of the arch, it was easy to miss the downtown area and drive right on by. The gateway arch is a beautiful sign that identifies Historic Downtown Cottage Grove and prompts citizens and visitors to come into the downtown area to browse and shop,” said Lexie Simpson, Cottage Grove’s Main Street Coordinator.
As additional elements of Cottage Grove’s planning efforts take shape, the community can look forward to further economic growth and success in the historic downtown.
Community Cottage Grove, OR; population 9,686
Program Funding $15,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant
Other Funding $15,000 from the Cottage Grove EBID and private foundations for signage
Multiple investments by the City of Cottage Grove, Cottage Grove Community Development Corporation, Cottage Grove EBID, Oregon Department of Transportation, and private investors for planning, project development and business assistance
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