Kulongoski to cities: Show us the place for state offices, meetings

By ED MERRIMAN Baker City Herald January 17, 2010 11:00 pm
Governor’s order encourages state to move offices and schedule meetings in historic downtowns such as Baker City’s, but Kulongoski says state officials will rely on local residents for suggestions

It’s up to local officials, including those in Baker City, to provide data on historic districts or buildings where state agencies could have their offices or schedule meetings under the auspices of an executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

“Maintaining attractive and vibrant towns and cities — and preserving their history — has always been part of our character. Today, we add a new way of making it part of the mission of state government,” Kulongoski said prior to signing the executive order.

The order directs state agencies to strive to locate offices in historic downtown areas when it fits with the agency’s mission and is economically feasible.

The order also encourages state agencies to schedule meetings and conferences in historic downtown buildings.

“When we re-use historic buildings, we preserve their landmark qualities for the next generation. Historic buildings are non-renewable resources that should be conserved just as passionately as our natural resources,” Kulongoski said.

He said the order is also designed to give an economic boost to historic downtowns.

“Through the Oregon Main Street program — which is managed by our State Historic Preservation Office — we are partnering with local communities to rebuild downtowns, not just as tourist attractions — but as real centers of commerce and government,” Kulongoski said.

Roger Roper, deputy state historic preservation officer, said the Historic Preservation Office is the lead agency charged with implementing Kulongoski’s executive order.

Roper said the order seeks to simplify the site selection process so agencies will call the historic preservation office in the initial stages of selecting sites.

“We are going to rely on the local partnerships with local cities,” Roper said. “Our goal is to link the agencies with the local people who would be in the know on this issue.

“In Baker City we have a good relationship with Ann Mehaffy (manager of Historic Baker City Inc.) and Jennifer Watkins (assistant city manager and community development director),” Roper said.

For communities seeking to strengthen the viability of their historic districts by luring state offices, Roper said the order provides “a good opportunity for local folks to put together a proposal.”

“If we’ve got good office space in these historic districts, let’s explore it,” Roper said, adding that “a certain amount of pressure is put on cities to make that happen.”

Roper said he and Sheri Stuart, Main Street coordinator with the Historic Preservation Office, will pass along information provided by local Main Street coordinators and other city officials about potential sites for state agency buildings, offices or meetings.

Stuart, who worked for the Washington state and the national Main Street programs before taking the coordinator position in Oregon, said the executive order gives historic districts in small towns like Baker City a chance to compete.

“Giving downtowns the chance to be competitive in the process is really important,” Stuart said.

She said the Historic Preservation Office will serve as a clearing house for information on potential sites within historic districts.

“The more information we can gather ahead of time, the better,” Stuart said.

There’s all kinds of benefits to having office workers in buildings downtown or adjacent to downtown, Kulongoski said.

“Today we take another step toward strengthening Oregon’s historic downtowns — by bringing people downtown, creating more foot traffic for local businesses, and preserving existing buildings,” Kulongoski said.

Stuart cited a decision by Oregon Mutual Insurance Co. to build its new regional office for 300 employees in downtown McMinnville as a key factor in the rebirth of that community’s downtown, and she said locating state office buildings in or near historic downtown districts can provide a similar boost to Baker City and other communities.

“It’s a built-in customer base. It has a synergistic effect. It increases business activity, plus preserves the character and heritage of a community by retaining these architectural gems,” Stuart said.

Kulongoski said historic downtowns were designed as places where people can live, work and shop within walking distance, which means less driving and less pollution.

In part, the executive order is designed to help revive that pattern of development and get people in the habit of walking around town.

“Increased use of historic downtowns will also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through their embodiment of land use and community design concepts that enable Oregonians to move about without relying completely on the automobile for transportation,” Kulongoski said.

By locating state offices downtown, cities can accomplish a number of important economic, cultural, and environmental goals, he said.

In his speech, Kulongoski laid out these five goals associated with the executive order:

• “First, we will help support local businesses, one of the cornerstones of our economy. Downtown shops and restaurants benefit tremendously from the support of nearby workers. Implementing the Executive Order will bring more state employees into downtown historic districts as customers.

• “Second, downtowns are walkable. So state workers will be able to patronize local businesses without driving. This will reduce congestion and emissions — and promote exercise.

• “Third, when we re-use historic buildings, we preserve their landmark qualities for the next generation.

• “Fourth, putting old buildings to new uses is the ultimate in recycling. Demolition is wasteful and environmentally unsound. Our landfills are already overtaxed. If it makes sense to recycle soda cans and newspapers, it makes even more sense to re-use entire buildings and keep them out of the waste stream.

• “Finally, locating state offices downtown will help prevent sprawl. Downtowns have an infrastructure in place. We don’t need to build new state offices in the farmland, forests, and open spaces we have worked so hard to preserve,” Kulongoski said.