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Downtown businesses can apply for grants to help with facade improvements, like Valley Art did.

STAFF PHOTO: MARK MILLER - From left, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, Valley Art Association interim treasurer Lynne Magner, Valley Art president Jeanne Leavy, Valley Art board member Jerry Hoerber and Matt Stone of the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon in front of Valley Art Gallerys remodeled storefront on Main Street.Forest Grove has one of the most historic downtown areas in western Oregon, and the municipal government has a vested interest in maintaining an attractive and welcoming commercial core.

It's to that end that the Forest Grove City Council voted in 2014 to adopt an urban renewal plan, and it's to further that end that the council tripled its investment in a program to help downtown business-owners spiff up their storefronts Monday, Jan. 22.

"We have such faith in downtown Forest Grove that we have increased that $20,000 to $60,000 and … are open for more of those grant requests," said Mayor Pete Truax.

Truax made the comment as part of remarks he gave at the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the Valley Art Gallery at 2022 Main St. in Forest Grove, which took place Saturday evening, Jan. 27.

Valley Art is open after extensive remodeling, which included facade improvements made in part with a grant from Forest Grove's storefront improvement program. Forest Grove senior planner Dan Riordan told the News-Times he believes the project has been "very noticeable" on Main Street.

Valley Art Association received a $7,500 grant from the Forest Grove Urban Renewal Agency for the improvements. The rest of the project was funded in large part by private donations.

On Saturday, Jeanne Leavy, the association's president, thanked donors who contributed to Valley Art's fundraising efforts and welcomed them to a reception catered by downtown restaurant Maggie's Buns.

"We're really indebted to the community for their support," Leavy told the News-Times.

What started as a small project to touch up the storefront exterior escalated after "a whole bunch of stuff that we did not anticipate," Leavy said. Valley Art remained open through as much of the remodeling as possible, she added, but it wasn't easy.

"Our volunteers at the desk had to put up with a lot of pounding and dust, and the gallery looked closed … so sales were down for a while because people just didn't even know we were open," she said.

Riordan said the council's action last Monday to increase the amount available for disbursement in the storefront improvement program came in response to high demand.

"Right now, we have 12 applications that have been submitted, and we've been working with the various applicants to come up with designs and cost estimates," Riordan said.

He added, "Based on the work in the applications that have been submitted, we think there's about $70,000 … that can be funded through the urban renewal agency."

Two grants have been awarded through the storefront improvement program since it was approved last summer, according to Riordan: the $7,500 to Valley Art and a $5,850 award to Heirloom Antiques, just up the block.

Grants through the program must be matched by at least an equal amount of private investment dollars.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from the Valley Art Association president.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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