If you’ve driven through Tillamook, Oregon, lately, you’ve likely noticed some big changes in the works. The Oregon Department of Transportation is two years into a three-year project aimed at improving traffic flow, expanding bike and pedestrian paths and creating public gathering spaces. Many local leaders see the revitalization project as a way to bring more people into its historic downtown.
Known as the U.S. Highway 101/Oregon Highway 6 Traffic Safety Improvement Project, the $38.2 million revitalization includes a new multi-modal bridge across Hoquarton Slough, improvements to Hoquarton Park, a new trail from Hoquarton Park to Goodspeed Park, and a new public plaza at 2nd Street and Pacific Avenue.
For downtown businesses, operating during construction has had its frustrations, but the long-term benefits are wide-ranging. It could be a turning point for downtown Tillamook, which has struggled to attract shoppers to the downtown core.
“This project really sets the stage for a culture shift in downtown Tillamook,” says Sierra Lauder, director of events and downtown development at the Tillamook Area Chamber of Commerce. “While construction has been hard on businesses, those who realize how this project will change the game for downtown Tillamook are setting themselves up to capitalize on the public investments being made.”
Tillamook is not the only coastal community undergoing a facelift. ReVision Florence is a massive project aimed at improving road conditions and public safety along Highway 101 while encouraging people to turn off the highway, park their cars and explore the historic downtown on foot.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revision our streets, sidewalks and public art and create a welcoming corridor. It will be a huge economic driver for decades to come,” says Bettina Hannigan, Florence Chamber of Commerce executive director. She points out that the average overnight guest to Lane County spends $269 per person, according to the latest Dean Runyan Associates study. “We would love more people to spend that money in Florence.”
ReVision Florence is no easy undertaking. The $6 million project requires collaboration with multiple agencies, including the Florence Urban Renewal Agency, the City of Florence and the Oregon Department of Transportation. According to a 2016 survey, many members of the business community view ReVision Florence as a much-needed and long overdue facelift for the downtown core. Yet, many are nervous about how construction will impact their 2018 profits.
With construction slated to start next summer, the Florence Chamber of Commerce is developing a toolkit that will help businesses prepare for and survive construction. “I come from a family of wheat farmers,” Hannigan says. “You have to plant a seed to get a harvest. Florence is planting amazing seeds right now. We have to be patient while they grow.”
She points to the Siuslaw River Bridge Interpretive Center, which was completed in 2013. It includes a stormwater treatment swale that’s a great educational opportunity as well as a beautiful environment for relaxing or meeting people. “We need spaces where people can gather. It’s critical for improving the visitor experience as well as connecting locals,” Hannigan says. “Well-designed public spaces encourage people to slow down and stay a while.”
Rendering of the Hoquarton Bridge on U.S. 101. courtesy of Otak Inc.