In order to reach its full potential, downtown Lake Oswego has to tell a compelling story.
Preferably, says urban strategist Michele Reeves, one that can be enjoyed by pedestrians at three miles per hour, the average walking pace.
Reeves offered her recommendations for how best to create that story to the Lake Oswego City Council on May 29, as the final chapter of a four-part revitalization curriculum presented to Lake Oswego business and property owners over a seventh-month period.
The city council briefing was for information and discussion only.
"Sales are generated by walkers," asserts Reeves in her final report, "Identity Building and Revitalization Recommendations for Downtown Lake Oswego." As a result, she says, every design and land use decision in a downtown area should reinforce the idea of superior walkability.
Driving her point home with the formula, "pedestrians = sales/square foot" on every other slide of her 15-minute PowerPoint presentation, Reeves offered six recommendations to attract pedestrians – and dollars – to the downtown shopping and business district.
Buildings as storytellers
Reeves spoke to the city council in its own language for the first recommendation – tell a more vibrant story with buildings.
"You shouldn't be legislating paint colors and awnings," says Reeves, referring to the city code that requires awnings and limits many buildings to the colors white, black, dark brown, dark green or gray-blue.
While embracing the full color spectrum and eliminating awnings requires a city code change, a recently completed downtown parking study inspired the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency to amend the city's parking code to reduce commercial parking minimums – another recommendation Reeves framed for maximum impact.
"You're drowning in parking," says Reeves. "You have so much parking, you're creating an environment no one wants to walk in."
Insisting that a lack of parking in a downtown area is a sign of success, Reeves calls for the complete elimination of a commercial parking minimum, pointing out that downtown Lake Oswego has more available parking than the Northwest 23rd Avenue shopping district, one of the densest neighborhoods in Portland.
"Lack of parking doesn't keep anyone away from that shopping district," says Reeves. "You have to create a great downtown experience to make people not care if there aren't a lot of parking places."
Richard Bloom of R. Blooms of Lake Oswego, a family-owned, boutique-style, floral, gift and accessory store, doesn't need a report to convince him of the impact of Reeves' recommendations.
After 23 years as a destination business in a building with limited visibility from the street or sidewalk, Bloom moved his business in March to Lake Oswego's main street, A Avenue, and incorporated several of Reeves' suggestions at his new, highly visible storefront.
"The change (in walk-in traffic) has been phenomenal," says Bloom. "We were hidden off the main drag in a complex with low visibility and no storefront."
"By moving locations where our storefront is highly visible and adding sidewalk interest with an antique flower cart and spillover product, we've probably increased our walk-in business by 40 to 50 percent."
Ramp up street activity
Bloom is planning to repaint his storefront three-colors, a Reeves' strategy for highlighting building detail. On Saturdays, he converts several of the customer parking spots next to his building into an outdoor market to take advantage of Lake Oswego's farmers market crowd.
"Saturdays used to mean a skeleton crew and closing early," says Bloom. "Now it's one of our busiest days."
Not all of Reeves' recommendations are so easily implemented. Creating a downtown association and hiring a manager, suggested by Reeves to help tell downtown's story, requires private sector efforts to generate a funding source, such as an Economic Development District.
"It will take a collaborative effort to effect change," says Jane Blackstone, Lake Oswego's economic development manager. "We're looking for feedback from our councilors on specific code changes, but we'll need to work with all our stakeholders to be successful."
Get Street Smart
As a follow-up to Reeves' recommendations for downtown Lake Oswego and several neighboring cities she's led through her revitalization curriculum, Metro is offering a six-month series of free workshops in four locations – Gresham, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego and Oregon City – for downtown property and business owners.
The one-hour workshops – Get Street Smart: Thriving districts by design – offer practical tips for implementing some of Reeves' ideas and those of storefront, merchandising and design pros for revitalizing retail shops, restaurants or ground floor businesses in the region's downtowns and main streets.