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With Some Help from USDA, a Small Oregon Town Brings Shoppers Back to Main Street

Cottage Grove residents stand under an arch welcoming visitors to the newly restored downtown area.

Cottage Grove residents stand under an arch welcoming visitors to the newly restored downtown area.

Like so many small towns these past few decades, downtown Cottage Grove, Oregon 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 under 10,000 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. To date, a number of activities have been planned and initiated to revitalize a historic downtown to meet the community’s 21st Century needs including strategic planning assistance, increased volunteer efforts, creation of a corner park, and removal of dilapidated buildings.

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.

Since project completion in the spring of 2012, six new downtown businesses opened their doors and two expanded operations to save and create 51 jobs.

Since project completion in the spring of 2012, six new downtown businesses opened their doors and two expanded operations to save and create 51 jobs.

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.

USDA provides funding to help spark economic growth and redevelopment of rural communities.  To learn more click here.

One Response to “With Some Help from USDA, a Small Oregon Town Brings Shoppers Back to Main Street”

  1. Kyle Anderson says:

    It’s amazing how directional signage can add and change so much in a community. Signage is truly a powerful thing.

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