By CHUCK HOFMANN, STEVE BOGART AND JENNIFER WATKINS
Everyone would agree that a lot of work has been done over the years to make downtown Baker City a wonderful place to visit. The has now begun a project that we believe will dramatically enhance the heart of our community. We call it The Downtown Jobs Initiative - a combination of several large-scale projects that we think will add beauty and opportunity to our community. The project will provide new downtown improvements, a green space, public parking, and a connection to the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway and the Powder River. The purpose of this guest opinion is to remind everyone what your city government hopes will be accomplished and why. We hope to bring prosperity to Baker City and create an exciting and profitable downtown.
Leo Adler Memorial Parkway
There are several components that make up the Downtown Jobs Initiative, each interconnected with the other.
The first is a project with which most are familiar: the Memorial Parkway. Since 1994, community volunteers and the City have been working to establish a adjacent to the Powder River. The first phase of this project is complete, traversing north from Geiser-Pollman Park to Hughes Lane with a andquot;spurandquot; to the Sports Complex. Other portions of the Parkway are also complete. The path has been constructed from Washington to Bridge Street. But we're not finished. We hope to complete the andquot;gapandquot; between the two completed segments of the Parkway as well as a connection to the historic district. By doing so, we will give citizens the opportunity to stroll between the downtown commercial district to the park, library, neighborhoods, and schools.
Two acres on the river
Next, and as we make the connection to the historic district, the vacant two-acre parcel already owned by the City will be redeveloped into a beautiful green space for the public to enjoy. This space will provide an area of respite within a block of the downtown commercial area. The need for additional public, off-street parking has long been identified as a need for downtown visitors.
The City will develop at least 150 additional public parking spaces within the area along Resort Street. Plans also call for restrooms, a picnic area, and perhaps even a water fountain if funds can be found.
Resort Street beautification
We also hope to make Resort Street a more user-friendly street. It currently has the look and feel of an alleyway, with the backs of buildings, dumpster and loading zones lining the west side.
The east side is populated by historically significant buildings, though several are in need of renovation. Both sides of the street are crippled by crumbling sidewalks and little visual appeal.
Our focus for Resort Street is much the same as it was 20 years ago for Main Street: replace the sidewalks with wider, better walkways; place the overhanging utility wires underground; plant trees; erect benches; install new lighting; and create screened areas for dumpster. The City believes that by making this investment, property owners will be persuaded to make improvements to their buildings that will turn Resort Street into a new jewel.
Finally, the City also hopes to complete a andquot;gatewayandquot; from Main Street to the green space by means of a Court Street Plaza. This component will be the final piece to be developed and will provide an entrance to the Park, Resort Street, and Leo Adler Memorial Parkway from the heart of downtown. Before it is designed, there will be many more opportunities for public input so that we can firmly establish what is wanted.
The obvious question is, andquot;How on earth is the City planning to pay for all of this?andquot; Well, we are well on our way. Through assistance from federal, private and City funds, we have secured enough funding to complete the Parkway project.
Funding for the Resort Street improvements is not as fully developed, but we are under way with a large grant from the state. We will continue to partner with state and federal agencies as well as private donors to fund Resort Street, the Park and Court Street Plaza.
Geiser Grand convention center
What about the Convention Center? How does it fit into the plans? We stand on the threshold of a wonderful opportunity. Most, if not all, of us believe the Geiser Grand is the crown jewel of downtown Baker City. The expansion is a wonderful chance to bring more visitors to our community.
The Convention Center project is a private development, not a public one. The owners of the hotel, Sidway Investment Corporation, plan to expand their facilities to include a 500-seat conference center and have agreed to fund the multi-million dollar project.
According to a commissioned by the Transient Room Tax Committee, the group which advises City Council on motel tax expenditures, the project will create many jobs for the community and will bring an estimated $2.7 million into Baker County during its first full year of operation!
The study estimated that Baker County lodging facilities will capture over $500,000 of this revenue while eateries, retail stores, gas stations, and recreational providers throughout the county will also benefit tremendously.
Agreement with Sidway Corp.
Because of the enormous impact this project represents, the City has agreed to assist the developers in three areas. First, we have agreed to develop public parking spaces in close proximity to the hotel. As previously mentioned, this parking is already part of the Resort Street Park project and the 150 spaces will be open to everyone, not just reserved for the Geiser Grand.
Second, the City has agreed to provide support to Sidway Investment Corporation to do the research and paperwork necessary to put together a financial package for the project, such as loans, grants and tax incentives. The City will not be a financial partner in this enterprise.
Third, after approval by the Transient Room Tax Committee, the Marketing Committee of Baker County Unlimited, and the Board of Baker County Unlimited, the City agreed to aggressively market business and conference travel for 10 years as part of the tourism marketing campaign we already have in place using motel tax dollars. Conference center event coordination is time consuming as most business conferences are scheduled at least two years in advance. For this reason, the marketing and sales effort must be started now, well before the facility's 2007 opening date.
There you have it, the nuts and bolts of the Downtown Jobs Initiative. Its development will be a long, slow process and one that requires a great deal more work and patience.
However, the City believes that this project is one that will be worthwhile to our citizens, to their children, and to their children's children.
Imagine strolling along the river to the library to pick up a favorite book. And imagine stopping to read a few pages on a bench in the green space before returning to Main Street. But imagine most of all a community that is enjoying the economic benefits of investing in its downtown to bring prosperity to all of its citizens.
That's our goal. We hope you agree that it's worth it.
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