If you create a compelling place, people will find a way to get there.
It worked for North Mississippi Avenue.
And – according to Michele Reeves, an urban strategist working with Metro to encourage downtown revitalization – it can work for Tigard.
Through a series of four workshops, including a walking tour of North Mississippi Avenue, Reeves shows stakeholders from Tigard's historic downtown how to apply the basic elements of successful revitalization to the mile-long Main Street shopping district.
"The trick is in getting them to perceive the area in a new light and consider the possibilities for what it can be," says Reeves.
In the first meeting with Tigard's business community back in February, Reeves presented the fundamentals of revitalization, which gave participants a common vocabulary for talking about what can be done in their downtown area.
At a follow-up meeting in March, she identified short-term goals and concrete next steps that stakeholders can take tomorrow, next month and next year to improve the area.
Experiencing successful downtowns drives the message home
While engaging, informative discussion has its place, according to Reeves, it's all in the showing.
"A tour of areas like North Mississippi Avenue is a very visual experience. People can literally see the possibilities," says Reeves. "We take the shared understanding developed in the first two meetings and apply it building-by-building during the tour. Participants get the message both verbally and visually."
Mississippi Avenue business and property owners stepped out of their storefronts to tell the Tigard visitors stories of opening a business on North Mississippi Avenue. Some came when many of the storefronts were boarded up and the street was known as a crime-prone industrial area instead of the vibrant, retail hot spot it is today.
Displays in open space between buildings can add vibrancy to a shopping district.
The tour provided an opportunity for the Tigard group to have "before" and "after" conversations with Mississippi Avenue business owners who have been where Tigard shop owners are today.
According to Tigard city officials, roughly 10 percent of the historic downtown storefronts are empty. The City of Tigard is taking steps to boost Main Street's appeal by widening sidewalks, adding street lighting and improving stormwater runoff with swales.
Phil Stanton, owner of family-centric Mississippi Pizza, was one of the first struggling businesses. It was a good day, he recalled, when there was no net loss at closing. It was the simple step of adding music that started to turn business around. Stanton discovered that every band came with a following and even if it meant a drive from downtown Vancouver, Wash., to Mississippi Avenue, devoted fans would make the trip.
"Food service is key to making a district a destination, particularly staples that become neighborhood hangouts – like Mississippi Pizza," says Reeves.
Activating a downtown area to attract visitors and pedestrians
The strategic use of tables, art, planter boxes, open storefront doors and even sale items attractively displayed to "activate" the sidewalk was a consistent recommendation throughout the two-hour tour. These elements provide visual cues that encourage visitors to step inside, stay and shop.
It's the pedestrian activity of North Mississippi Avenue that makes a visitor feel they've arrived at a place that's more than a shopping destination. Open public plazas with plenty of casual seating areas, walk-and-eat food shops on every block, attractively painted buildings that bring a vibrancy to the streetscape and a few hours of uninterrupted sun all add up to the unmistakable sense of place and community.
"What downtown Tigard needs to be," says Reeves, "is a community where people want to spend time." With or without the sun.
Tigard Development Tour: Mississippi Avenue from oregonmetro on Vimeo.
Revitalization of main streets and downtowns helps support the region's six desired outcomes by creating vibrant communities and economic prosperity that enhance the quality of life for residents of the Portland metropolitan area.