An informal series of outreach opportunities for the public to provide input to the city for the upcoming downtown design project kicked off Thursday afternoon. City Manager Chris Workman called the meetings an important part of the process for “a once-in-a-lifetime project.”
“We’re really setting the table for what the future of Philomath is going to look like for many, many years to come — probably the next two to three generations out,” Workman said.
A timber town theme attracted overwhelming support during feedback the city received last year.
“As much as I’m excited about the possibilities it brings for economic development and tourism … the part that excites me most about this project is taking my family to downtown and seeing my friends in the downtown area and going to the downtown shops and doing my shopping,” he said.
“This is our community’s downtown and I want it to be a place the community is proud of.”
Those participating in the virtual meeting had questions and comments related to various pieces of the Downtown Safety and Streetscapes Project, including the possibility of creating some sort of town square. It’s an idea that’s been pitched in the past, although the downtown’s configuration does not appear to favor any version of what most would consider to be a traditional town square.
However, Workman said there are little pockets and plaza-type areas that can be utilized, including as a site for an informational kiosk.
Workman was questioned about the potential of using the former Denny’s service station property on the corner of Main and South 14th. The Urban Renewal Agency recently purchased the property under the guise of using it for off-street parking.
“We need to make sure it’s available for parking but that doesn’t mean it’s not also available for a farmers’ market or a community event,” Workman said. “I want to say it’s not going to be limited to just parking, but the primary purpose was for an off-street parking area to support the downtown businesses.”
The extra parking may not seem like a huge need at the moment, but it’s anticipated that visitation to the downtown will grow as retail and food/beverage establishments populate the vicinity in the future.
The first order of business with that particular property relates to environmental cleanup tasks. But the city is going slow with how to develop the lot to make sure it’s in concert with the changes on Main Street.
“I think it has a lot of possibilities; I’m really excited about it,” Workman said. “We just haven’t made any decisions at this point.”
The Downtown Safety and Streetscapes Project’s current timeline — which is subject to change — shows construction beginning in May 2022. Work will continue throughout the summer, slow down over the winter months and pick up again the following spring with an estimated completion in November 2023.
The project anticipates submitting its final design to the Oregon Department of Transportation by the end of this year and in February 2022, going out for bid. Workman said ODOT’s bidding process will be used, which opens up the work to top-level contractors.
Dougherty Landscape Architects, a Eugene-based company, specializes in urban design and site-planning services from concept through construction. Workman said DLA will be in attendance at the March 4 meeting.
Murraysmith, a company that has long been associated with the project, is handling behind-the-scenes engineering work, which includes making sure that the project is meeting ODOT design standards.
The streetscapes project area includes Main Street and Applegate Street from 14th to Seventh. In addition, 13th Street improvements are in the plans but a lack of available funds forced the project to drop other connecting streets. Workman said the city will need to revisit those streets separately at some point in the future and consider improvements.
The project’s main impact area will be on Main from 10th to 14th with full road reconstruction, wider sidewalks, landscaping, benches, trash receptacles, street lighting and so on. A new traffic signal will go in at 13th and Main and an information kiosk will be installed in a to-be-determined location.
Many of those same elements will also be seen in other project areas. The 13th Street stretch may even see an electric vehicle charging station.
Shelley Niemann, Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce director, asked during the meeting if existing businesses would be forced to alter their exteriors to fit in with the theme.
Workman said it would not be a requirement, but design standards will come into play for new businesses or existing businesses doing some sort of major exterior extension.
Workman hopes that there will be money remaining in the Urban Renewal Agency budget to offer financial relief for those that opt to make facade improvements.
“We want to help our downtown businesses and property owners be able to upgrade or give their properties a little bit of a facelift,” Workman said. “Or even if they look great now, just to give them some funds to incentivize to match this timber town theme.”
If Urban Renewal funds are not available, there may be other sources that can be utilized to help business owners.
At Thursday’s meeting, a few people stressed the importance of doing something to improve pedestrian safety on Seventh Street, which is used now more than ever with Dollar General’s location. ODOT does have money earmarked for those types of improvements. Rapid flashing beacon crosswalks — such as the one installed near the new apartments on the east end of town — are being considered at various points along Main, including on Seventh.
“We’ll definitely see more of a pedestrian-friendly area throughout the project,” Workman said.
One of the most interesting components of the project may be the two-way cycle track that’s under consideration for a stretch along Applegate from 15th to 13th. An improved crossing would be in place then on 13th where cyclists can connect with Main.
Workman said no city dollars will go toward the two-way cycle track portion of the project.
“It’s strictly ODOT funds to fix this bicycle issue and help cyclists get from the east end of town to the west end of town a little bit safer,” Workman said. “This will be the first dual direction cycle track in our area … so this will be a first.”
Two-way cycle tracks are separated from the roadway — often with some sort of barrier — that allow bicycle movement in both directions on one side of the road.
Future virtual get-togethers are coming up March 4, March 25, April 2 and April 29.
“These are meant to be informal, just get information out, hear from you and the concerns are important,” Workman said. “We want to address as many concerns as we can before we get too far into the project.”
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