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Business, property owners joining forces to improve local downtown and draw more visitors

For the past several years, downtown improvement efforts have largely taken place with the aid of a city of Prineville-led committee.

That could change in the near future as a newly forming Downtown Association that will be driven by business owners intends to take the wheel.

The Downtown Strategic Planning, or DSP, Committee was formed in 2013 following some exploration into a possible urban renewal district by city leaders. Ultimately, the city opted not to pursue the urban renewal idea but still saw a need to create a more vibrant downtown that would be attractive to tourists. Consequently, the DSP was formed, which was comprised primarily of City Council and staff members, as well as some business owners.

"The original intent and goal of that committee was to generate interest in improving Prineville's downtown and to start to engage business and property owners downtown until such a time that there was enough interest and involvement there to carry those efforts forward," said Casey Kaiser, the former director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce and current associate planner for the city. "What we want to encourage the (Prineville City) Council to consider is that in light of the Downtown Association being formed and functioning that the timing might be right to discontinue the council-formed Downtown Strategic Planning Committee and further consider directing those resources over to this Downtown Association." Kaiser went on to stress that the association was formed around the same basic goals as the DSP, but added that the DSP has struggled throughout its existence in generating consistent involvement from businesses and property owners.

Bryan Iverson, a current business owner and the president of the Downtown Association, echoed those words, noting that during his involvement with the DSP, not many business owners had gotten involved.

"I think that timing is everything, and I think we are at the right time for this to move forward to where it needs to," he said of the potential transition. "We have got to get people to visit here, we have got to get companies to move here and we have got to have culture. Part of that culture piece is you have got to have a vibrant downtown. That is the cornerstone to any community."

Iverson noted that he has received two DSP grants that enabled him to upgrade the exteriors of his downtown businesses. Several others have been awarded during the past few years. The hope now is to expand upon that work.

The Downtown Association looked into the Main Street Project, which Iverson said is a state organization that is part of a larger national organization.

"We applied in July to be an associate member," he said, "which means we don't have staff, but we have access to their ability to help us with things," such as strategic planning, grant writing and more.

The application was accepted, and the association followed that up with seeking grant funding for to create internship through the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and the Chamber. The grant was awarded last month, Iverson said, and the intern is expected to help the association work on the day-to-day and data-driven aspects of the new organization – developing membership lists, finding out who owns which downtown businesses and compiling a list of contact information.

The association has formed a board, although Iverson said it is a temporary group. Once membership grows, an election will be held to determine who serves on the board. Future plans include development of a one-, three- and five-year plan, as well pursuit of small downtown improvement projects such as better lighting on Northeast Fourth Street.

Iverson requested that the City Council consider taking the $10,000 currently budgeted for the DSP and apply it to the new association to help it move forward with its plans. Though no firm financial decisions were made, City Manager Steve Forrester expressed his support for helping move the new Downtown Association forward.

"I think we are ready to take that next step," he said.

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