Downtown Oregon City to lose 2 leaders
Oregon City's future downtown development is reaching a crossroads with the imminent departure of two local leaders.
Oregon City Economic Development Manager Eric Underwood is resigning effective end of business Jan. 2, and Downtown Oregon City Association Executive Director Jonathan Stone will officially resign effective Jan. 4. Underwood began work for the city in November 2011, and Stone became the downtown association's leader in October 2013. The pair were key players in creating a citywide tourism promotion strategy.
Underwood thinks the city's future economic development is facing a big challenge in providing the necessary infrastructure that would directly serve the city's employment lands.
"I would encourage the next economic development manager to continue with the partnerships that have already been established that help to leverage pertinent resources to bring the city's employment lands closer to development-ready status for job creation and economic stability," he said.
Underwood said it has been a "privilege working with such an amazing team" for the past seven years building partnerships around the newly created Beavercreek Employment Area.
"Some of my proudest accomplishments during my time working for the city include managing the urban renewal grant programs that contributed significantly to the transformation of downtown (and) successfully negotiating the development agreements for the Cove Project and seeing the first phase being constructed," Underwood said.
Stone noted Oregon City was a "very different place" five years ago, when Stone started as leader of the downtown association (DOCA). He since has navigated DOCA, taking over management of the Oregon City Municipal Elevator in 2017.
After the recent dissolution of the downtown Economic Improvement District (EID), DOCA had to change its funding streams significantly for programs to boost business downtown. DOCA has adopted a voluntary membership program and introduced other fundraising activities.
"I'm happy to report that we are on track to save or raise more than was projected this year all while maintaining key programs," Stone said. "With our continued partnerships, DOCA is in a strong position to implement its new strategic plan. My departure is primarily due to my desire to live closer to my immediate family."
Last year downtown property owners remonstrated in large enough numbers to prevent the district's renewal, and the DOCA board decided not to pursue it again. The district's tax revenue had generated about $100,000 annually for downtown programs, and the city's general fund has contributed about $50,000 a year through its general fund.
Stone noted that each time the district renewed since its 2011 inception, it did not initially pass. Both previous times, modified proposals passed with sufficient support. In 2015, the EID was renewed on the second attempt with just 2 percent objecting.
"This time, I believe that could have also been the case," Stone said. "That being said, our projects and programs have shifted over the years as the needs of the district have changed. It seemed natural to my board to rethink how the organization is funded.
"I'm glad that I was able to help navigate that change and that the organization is showing continued positive momentum."
Stone said it has been an honor working side-by-side with the volunteers, business and property owners, partners and community members to make downtown Oregon City an "incredibly special place."
He expressed confidence in DOCA employees and volunteer board members to continue downtown's revitalization. Oregon City was honored with the prestigious 2018 Great American Main Street Award.
"The future is bright with the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, redevelopment of the courthouse, and increasing regional and national attention," Stone said.
Stone introduced initiatives such as year-round street tree lights, clean-and-safe services, Best of Oregon City People's Choice Awards and signature summer events.
"Jonathan has left a positive mark on the organization and the community. We are sad to see him leave, but are excited for his new opportunity," said DOCA Board President Carol Pauli. "DOCA's recently adopted strategic plan focuses on building community and cultivating commerce.
"We look forward to rolling out new and refreshed programs in the coming year that strengthen the relationships of our stakeholders and connect downtown with the rest of the city," she said.
Underwood announced Dec. 6 that he would be leaving Oregon City to become the local government affairs manager for PGE. Stone announced Dec. 11 that he was offered a job in community development on the East Coast, closer to his family.
The board of directors is establishing a search committee to recruit an executive director to implement its new strategic plan. Liz Hannum has stepped in to serve as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is found.
Since joining DOCA in May as programs manager, Hannum created the Downtown Wine Walk, expanded DOCA's merchandise program, and has led placemaking projects. She has prior leadership experience with downtowns in Oregon, New Mexico and South Dakota.
"The board plans to take a few weeks to evaluate what it needs in its next director," Stone said. "At that time, they will make an announcement and advertise the position. Liz has graciously stepped up in the interim. No candidates are being considered at this time."
Community members are invited to an open house and reception in honor of Stone's service from 4-7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, at the DOCA Office, 814 Main St.