The Prineville City Council was given an urban renewal feasiblity study and will discuss the topic at a future meeting

In July, the Prineville City Council agreed to spend $7,500 on an urban renewal feasibility study of the community’s downtown area.

Recently, the city’s financial advisor, Andy Parks, completed and submitted that report and councilors will soon decide what direction they want to take.

The report included results from a survey distributed to city councilors, planning commissioners, budget committee members, staff, representatives of local taxing districts and chamber of commerce. It also highlighted a walking tour of the downtown area in that included multiple local leaders and business owners, as well as potential financing tools for urban renewal and potential steps to take with urban renewal going forward.

“We are now at the stage where council needs to decide what to do,” said City Planning Director Scott Edelman.

At this point, they have plenty of decision left to make. Edelman said they could take a phased approach to upgrading the downtown area.

“It looks purely at what we want to see in our downtown. What do we want our streets to look like, our sidewalks to look like, the streetscape?” he said. “What buildings do we want to revitalize either privately or with public dollars?”

Taking that approach enables the city to make incremental changes by writing grants or investing other public dollars, Edelman said, as opposed completing a full urban renewal plan and going through the process of adopting an urban renewal district.

However, a phased approach would likely rule out the possibility of pay for improvements with tax increment funding, a method in which the tax base for the urban renewal district is frozen and tax growth is diverted to a fund for upgrades and development within the district.

The council has yet to officially decide whether to take a phased approach or commit to an urban renewal district, but Edelman senses that councilors and other businesses may prefer phasing in downtown improvements.

“Here, I think it (urban renewal) is a little more up in the air as far as people understanding what it would do,” he said.

Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe expressed similar concerns.

“I’m not sure whether our local business people are going to be supportive of it,” she said. “I want to have a length of time where we really get down in the nitty gritty of all of the questions that will pop up, and we need to start having some public meetings.”

While questions still remain, the report and the survey and downtown tour it highlighted shed a little more light on the direction the city might take. For example, survey results suggested a strong interest in revitalizing downtown Prineville as opposed to another blighted area in the community.

Edelman stressed that it was a targeted survey for people who may already have an interest in the downtown area, but noted that results were “consistent with council’s predisposition.”

“Downtown is where they want to focus,” he said.

Meanwhile the downtown tour, which covered a 12-block area, helped city leaders and business owners identify buildings or portions of the area they would like to upgrade.

“It was meant to be a two-way conversation,” Edelman said. “One was to educate people who participated in the tour on exactly what urban renewal is and the variety of projects it can do . . . The other side of was getting feedback on what other people would like to see.”

Edelman gave the feasibility study report to the council in early October, so they would have time to look it over before discussing it during a future meeting, possibly as soon as Nov. 12.

Whenever the council addresses the topic again, Roppe hopes the complex urban renewal picture continues to come into focus, so they can decide what direction to take next.

“I think there is still some uncertainty,” she said.

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