Expert gives insight on improving downtown Madras
In late February, consultant Michele Reeves, of Portland, quietly visited downtown Madras to figure out what the city and businesses could do to make the area more inviting.
Earlier this month, Reeves, of Civisis Consulants, returned to present her findings to a packed house at the Madras City Hall.
The "Small Town Downtown Turnaround," as she called her presentation, focused on making the downtown area more connected, and "awesome" on both the outside and inside, in order to increase foot traffic and sales.
Looking at the downtown as a store, she said that front doors are the town's entry points, the aisles are the roads and sidewalks, the fixtures are the buildings and the products are the businesses.
As you drive into a community, it should be obvious when you have arrived, Reeves said, as she showed slides of Madras' entry points. "Am I there yet?" she asked. "Is it hard to know when you're downtown? I'm looking for a front door."
"You see a lot of walls," she said, specifically referring to the backs and sides of buildings. "It's one of the most visible things. Walls are not good for downtown commerce."
Traffic through downtown Madras consists of two lanes of northbound traffic on Fifth Street and two lanes of southbound traffic on Fourth Street — which she called a "couplet."
One-way streets, she pointed out, are designed to move traffic through an area quickly, but are not good for pedestrian traffic. "Small businesses are more successful when traffic is slow," she said.
The traffic pattern creates another problem, according to Reeves:
"Usually, one side of the couplet becomes the front, and one side becomes the back," she said, noting that Fifth Street seems to be the front.
She recommends that cities "build buildings that have no backs."
Reeves also bemoaned the large number of vacant lots and parking lots through the main downtown area. "There is a lot of automobile-focused use — parking lots in your downtown core area," she said.
When she looks at a building, Reeves said that it should be obvious what type of business it is.
In front of stores, she said that there is a store zone next to the business, and a district zone closer to the curb. In the store zone, Reeves likes to see objects that showcase the business, such as an art object outside a gallery, or a giant ball of yarn outside a craft store.
In the district zone, there should be landscaping and street furniture.
"The store zone can invade the district zone," she pointed out. "You don't want your district zone to invade your store zone."
As an example, she showed a photo of a trash can, which should be in the district zone, instead located next to a store front.
"Everything in your town matters," she said.
Reeves was pleased with the city's banners, but suggested that there should be more public art, especially on the walls.
For business owners, she asked, "How do you take that story and bring it out to the sidewalk?"
"The retail experience happens long before you enter the door," she said. "There is no building that cannot look better."
Lighting is also extremely important. "I want to see in your windows," she said. "Is your window merchandised well? Do your windows change frequently?"
For restaurants, she said that it's important that passersby can see people dining.
"We're all in the business of improving marketing per square foot," she said.
For a large building, such as the former Hatfield's Department Store, she recommended that it be redeveloped into a lot of smaller spaces.
Regarding paint, Reeves said, "Beige is not a color ... Think about three- and four-color paint schemes. We want articulation. Paint is a temporary finish. If you feel comfortable with the paint you pick out, you're not on the right track. Your job is to get people's attention."
Following the meeting, Nick Snead, Community Development Department director, told the group, "This isn't a plan that will sit on a shelf. We're really trying to help all of you be successful."
This week, Sarah Gannon, owner of Opal Day Spa, said that she plans to make use of all the information gleaned from the meeting.
"I'm implementing everything," she said. "From the time I left that place, within 10 minutes I had made changes. I drove directly from the meeting and moved our specials sign out to the street, instead of up against the building."
Since then, she has also taken Reeves' advice about adding interest in the store zone. "I brought my mannequin, Emma, to the shop. She's out front with her bathrobe on," Gannon said on Monday. "I had wheels put on her base, so we can wheel her in and out."
Gannon has also been communicating with neighboring businesses, encouraging owners to think about their identities. "If all of us took the opportunity to think about what our identity is," she said, "Our identity could easily be painted with sunsets, Opal Springs water, the Willow Creek train trestle, lightning, firefighters, Freda, Native Americans."
Morgan Greenwood, assistant planner for the city, was pleased with the community's response to the consultant's suggestions. "We received really good feedback from both current and former members of the Madras Redevelopment Commission, business owners, and property owners — including some who had come in from out of state to attend the presentation."
The next step will be finalizing and adopting the report, after which, she said, "staff will support the Madras Redevelopment Commission in ensuring that the programs and actions are acted upon. Staff will continue outreach to business and property owners, and the Madras Downtown Association to continue to build partnerships between the public and private sectors."