Work will likely focus on long-term projects, property acquisition and bike/pedestrian accessibility

LON AUSTIN - Several downtown businesses, including The Posie Shoppe, have completed storefront improvements to enhance the downtown area.

Anyone who spends much time in downtown Prineville has likely noticed a few businesses sporting new storefronts.

Some added a fresh coat of paint to the building exterior, while others updated the signage.

This work was made possible by a grant program the City of Prineville launched as part of its downtown revitalization effort.

So far, upgrades have focused primarily on creating more inviting and eye-catching storefronts that hook tourists passing through town, but that could soon change as local leaders examine new ways to improve the downtown area.

The revitalization effort was spurred in large part by an assessment Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants conducted in 2014. Hired by city leaders to examine downtown Prineville and find ways to improve business and tourism, she spent two days in the community, capping her visit with a public presentation of her findings to local business owners and city leaders.

One of her main critiques was downtown storefronts needed updated paint jobs, signage and other improvements to entice more tourist interest. Acting on that advice, the city launched a grant program through which businesses could apply for reimbursement for façade improvements. The city agreed to match 50 percent of the grant funds for projects up to $2,500. Ten local businesses have taken advantage of the program in the past two years.

More recently, in late 2017, the Downtown Strategic Planning Committee created a Third Street Development Plan that called for multiple upgrades to sidewalks on both sides of the road from the west "Y" to as far east as Elm Street and possibly beyond.

Possible improvements include installation of artwork, bicycle racks, trees and bushes, seating and new trash cans.

Now, with those plans in motion, city planning leaders are teaming up with Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) and the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce to expand on the downtown improvement effort.

"COIC came to us early in the year and said they had some grant money," said City Planning Director Josh Smith. He went on to explain that the organization had no particular project in mind for the $10,000 grant, but felt the city could use it for something worthwhile.

After brainstorming different uses, Smith and other city leaders determined that downtown revitalization best fit what COIC had in mind. More specifically, they wanted to bring Reeves back to Prineville for an encore downtown assessment.

"It has been two years (since the façade improvements began), there has been a lot of activity, let's bring her back," Smith said.

The COIC grant will cover half of the $20,000 necessary to hire Reeves. The city will pull $5,000 from its downtown strategic planning budget, and the Chamber will cover the remaining $5,000.

This time, the assessment will take a broader look at Prineville's downtown core. Smith said it will focus more on long-term projects and functionality as well as strategies for property acquisition to improve biking and pedestrian access.

Reeves will come to town next week and will conduct her assessment during a five-day span. She will review and document opportunities for public space, public art, pocket parks and streetscape improvements, review façade improvement projects, identify underutilized properties, and look at traffic flow, parking and pedestrian flow.

Reeves will follow up the assessment with a written final report that will outline opportunities, challenges and best practices and strategies for downtown Prineville. The report is scheduled to be completed and released before the end of the calendar year.

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