Downtown plans include interactive murals to attract foot traffic

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Cassie Cruze of the Lebanon Downtown Association presented a 2020 year-in-review report to the City Council Wednesday, Feb. 10, summarizing the organization’s efforts to attract more people to the downtown area, and plans for 2021.
“One thing that we’re excited about for this next year is actually an interactive mural project,” Cruze said.
Partnering with Linn-Benton Community College and Lowe’s, LDA plans to create paint-by-number and other mural projects.
Interactive murals include murals that people can help paint, and murals that invite people to pose in front of. For example, people can look like they have wings, or are being carried away by balloons.
“We can have beautiful works of art that people can feel ownership and a place of belonging, and they know they took part in that,” Cruze said.
Looking back on 2020, just before COVID shut businesses down, the participation in two First Friday events in February and March drew 400 people, an encouraging number, she noted.
“Just to see that the trajectory that we could have had would have been exponential growth for us for First Fridays if, of course, COVID had not happened,” she said.
Summer Bands & Brews was able to happen last year, but Concerts in the Park did not happen because the funding was not available to support it, Cruze said. In lieu of a trick-or-treat event downtown, the LDA was able to put on performances with social distancing.
Dine Downtown Boxes, Taste of Downtown and Spacewalk were introduced last year, as was a partnership with Linn-Benton Community College that brings student volunteers downtown to earn college credit. Toward the end of the year, LDA and the City worked together to get downtown restaurants approved for outdoor dining.
Partnerships with the Oregon Main Street program, City of Lebanon and Chamber of Commerce allowed LDA to communicate to businesses resources and grants that are available, Cruze said.
“To be able to give information to empower our downtown businesses, just to know that they weren’t alone and that they had people to advocate and support them truly brought in that solidarity during a really difficult time,” she said.
One objective to promote downtown is to change the community’s perception of the corridor, she said. They’re seeing prosperity come out of the economic downturn from recent years, and continue to build it up.
“We want people to know that we’re here and we’re vibrant, and we’re continuously moving forward,” she said.
City Council members also approved a lease with Growler Cafe at the meeting, which allows the restaurant to use a portion of the wider sidewalk for expanded dining and alcohol service, including fencing around the tables.
“This is a great addition to downtown,” said councilor Jason Bolen. “I just wish more of our sidewalks were set up at that width so we had this option for more businesses downtown.”
Alysia Rodgers, economic development catalyst for the city, also delivered a report to the council. She noted that in the city’s effort to communicate with Lebanon businesses and share information that could assist businesses during COVID, staff has found it difficult to contact businesses due to not having a business registration program.
“There’s only so many people that, if they don’t see our social media posts or aren’t a member of the chamber or the Downtown Association, we really can’t get a read on how they are doing, how their health of their business is during this pandemic,” Rodgers said.
Community Development Director Kelly Hart noted the biggest resource they had during the pandemic was communication.
“When we don’t have a comprehensive list of those that we need to communicate with, it’s kind of like trying to fight a battle with one arm tied behind your back,” she said.
Mayor Paul Aziz noted he recalled discussion on the matter of running a business registration program some 15 years ago when he was on the Planning Commission.
“(The city) had tried it at different times, apparently, and it was just a really large administrative nightmare to keep current and actually have good information, and to convince people that they want to register their business,” Aziz said.
Rodgers responded that they are looking at how other communities are approaching it. She would like to collaborate with nearby rural municipalities to develop a regional registration process, but locally the city would have to determine if it wants to be a free program.
Also, the city never really had anyone staffed to maintain the program until she was hired.
“Having an economic development person that’s dedicated to it, yeah, it’s gonna have a lot of initial legwork. But hopefully, if the program gets up and going, year over year, it should be a really simple thing to be able to just turn in a paper. But a lot of it has to do with research first and kind of see what approach we want to take,” she said.
Hart pointed out Lebanon’s municipal code already includes a provision for a business registration program, but she believes it was put on hold for a year some time ago and it never resurfaced.
Such a program would also help the fire district address safety needs, and would help the city forecast what economic needs may require addressing, she said.
“We identified through the the pandemic that there’s a lack of information and lack of knowledge, and the business registration program could fill that knowledge and then the rest of it is still to be known,” Hart said. “It’s just at this point, I think we kind of want to look for if this council even wants us to spend our time on it or not.”
Council members agreed they would like the program to be looked into for future discussion.
In other business, the council:
♦ Approved the application to annex the property at 611 Hansard Ave. and establish the corresponding industrial zone on the newly annexed property.
♦ Conducted a public hearing and approved a resolution to apply for Community Development Block Grant funding for senior communication devices through the Lebanon Senior Center.
With these funds, the City of Lebanon could partner with the senior center to provide Wi-Fi enabled smart devices, digital literacy training, and IT support for up to 38 low income seniors.
The devices will allow seniors to access telehealth and senior center programming, and could reduce impacts of isolation experienced during the pandemic, Rodgers explained.
“If the initial program is successful, the senior center will apply for additional funding for further devices, with the goal of reaching up to 100 seniors over the next 12 months,” she said.
♦ Formed an Illegal Camping Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to provide recommendations to the City Council regarding illegal camping that meet state law and guidelines that have been set through Court decisions, and to assist members of the Lebanon homeless community.
Committee membership will be six individuals: Aziz, City Councilor Wayne Rieskamp, City Councilor Wayne Dykstra, Police Captain Kim Hyde, citizen Denise Downer, and citizen Dina Elkridge.
♦ Accepted the annual financial report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.
The report includes information on the city’s performance in light of its budget plan, information on its capital assets and investments, and its liabilities and debt load.
It can be seen starting on page 53 at www.ci.lebanon.or.us/sites/default/files/02-10-2021_cc_packet.pdf.
♦ Passed a motion to allow an RFP for financial audit services, and selected Rebecca Grizzle and Karin Stauder to serve on the RFP Review Committee.
♦ Listened to a presentation on economic development activities for 2020 and focuses for 2021.
♦ Interim City Manager Nancy Brewer said the city plans to begin lock offs for water service this month.
♦ The Lebanon Public Library, Senior Center and LINX have been assisting seniors to get signed up for vaccinations, and provide transportation to the fairgrounds for those who need it.