Every downtown and Main Street has a unique story to tell, claims Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants.
On a cool January evening, Reeves gathered more than 50 Lake Oswego property owners, business owners, city staff and stakeholders around the glow of her PowerPoint presentation. In the half-lit, cavernous Waluga Masonic Lodge, Reeves outlined the story of downtown Lake Oswego today, through a block-by-block, building-by-building review.
In her role as civic editor, Reeves then presented the lively crowd with suggestions for punching up the storyline with more color, less surface parking and a heightened attention to architectural detail.
In the second of four presentations of her revitalization curriculum, Reeves talked about both the simple and more sophisticated changes that can add retail vitality and deliver greater economic return to downtown Lake Oswego.
"Downtown Lake Oswego has all of the building blocks needed to function at a higher level," says Reeves, "but there are some key elements found in successful mixed-use districts that could help the area increase its sales per square foot and establish stronger ties to the community."
Color was first on her list.
"Every building in downtown Lake Oswego is some shade of beige," says Reeves. "Even the Miller Paint store – home of Devine Color paints – is a variation on beige." On an overcast day, continued Reeves, buildings and sky blend together to create an "invisible city."
Noting the unique architectural detail of several downtown buildings including the historic George Rogers Building on the corner of A Avenue and State Street, the Gemini Bar and Grill, and the Clock Gallery, both on State Street, Reeves suggested a three-color palette to highlight the architectural features.
"It invites drivers on State Street into the downtown area, and cues them into the character of the place," says Reeves.
Although changing the color of a building seems like one of the simpler suggestions on Reeves' list, changing the downtown color palette could take a change in Lake Oswego Community Development Code, which currently calls for "painting the wood elements in the first floor storefront areas white, black, dark brown, dark green or greyblue." (50.65.030 4.b. Ground Floor Design)
Reeves received a spontaneous standing ovation with a slide that read, "Eliminate current design standards that require boring… I mean muted colors in downtown" and "Eliminate color review from the design review process for every building, past, present and future."
Jane Blackstone, Lake Oswego’s economic development manager, noted that while not all buildings are subject to the city's Development Review Commission, the development standards weren't created in a vacuum. She indicated color options would be something to check in with the community about.
"It's better to have clarity on the values of the community and if they're accepting of more diversity in color," says Blackstone. She also noted that some property owners have sought Reeves out for advice. "We're seeing a real interest in implementing Michele's recommendations."
Projecting a map of the downtown Lake Oswego grid up on the screen, Reeves identified the large holes between streets and next to building footprints as surface parking lots. "Some of your parking lots are bigger than the buildings," says Reeves.
Lake Oswego has minimum off-street parking space requirements for commercial areas in its downtown redevelopment district design standards.
"Most successful mixed-use districts have parking problems," says Reeves, noting that Northwest 21st Avenue's shopping district has no shortage of visitors and shoppers despite a shortage of parking. She encouraged incentives to convert parking spaces to public spaces where feasible and for businesses to share parking.
Blackstone noted that a change in the parking code is already in the works to simplify the code and reduce the parking minimum. The Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency prepared a downtown parking study with recommendations to better support a vibrant downtown and redevelopment.
Away with awnings
One barrier to enjoying the design and detail of Lake Oswego's downtown buildings are the awnings, asserts Reeves who recommends removing them to better showcase the architectural detail on the face of many downtown buildings.
"The George Rogers Building is one of the bookends of your downtown," says Reeves. "By removing the awning, using a three-color paint palette and adding some dramatic lighting, it can serve as an advertisement for how cool and great the district is."
As Reeves clicked through the last run of slides with examples of vibrant storefronts from other revitalized downtowns and Main Streets, the impact of her recommendations was in the showing, not telling.
"It's everyone's job to project a powerful story to the street 24/7," says Reeves.
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette attended the workshop and shared her enthusiasm for Reeves' presentation on Facebook.
"Metro brought Michele to Gresham, Oregon City, Tigard and other regional centers," Collette wrote. "We are working with communities that want to encourage more businesses and homes in their downtowns. She's amazing." Metro and Lake Oswego are splitting the cost of Civilis Consultants. Metro's share was $8,875.
The next step in Reeves' revitalization curriculum for Lake Oswego is a field trip on Feb. 22 for stakeholders to learn redevelopment do's and don'ts directly from property owners and businesses in a district undergoing renewal.