Downtown Alliance in full swing for Milton-Freewater


MILTON-FREEWATER -The community's reputation as a bedroom town may finally be put to rest under an extensive process initiated by business leaders.

With the creation this year of the Milton-Freewater Downtown Alliance and the organization's acceptance into the Oregon Main Street network, business leaders have embarked on a journey they hope will breathe life into their downtown through revitalization and infill development.

"People come through here and say, 'There's such potential. Why isn't anybody doing anything with it?'" said Julie Culjiak, owner of Main Street business Three Divas Beads.

This year, business owners started to. They joined together to create the alliance, a branch of the town's Community Development Partnership, and are now working on a long-term goal to develop into an operating association similar to the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.

In one of its first major steps, the alliance, led by President Norman Saager, was selected to receive a free historic reconnaissance level survey and design assistance from the Oregon Main Street program.

The results of that survey, including buildings that could potentially qualify for historic preservation funding, were shared this week in a public gathering at the Community Building.

"This was absolutely one of the best projects to kick off our design efforts," Culjiak, chair of the alliance's Design Committee, said. "The opportunity to explore historic buildings and talk with property owners about their needs and desires set the stage, inspired the team and motivated our group."

The goal is to identify improvements for when business and property owners are able to invest. The process included site visits from three of the Heritage Program staff members, Kenny Gunn, Kuri Gill and OMS Coordinator Sheri Stuart, who attended the presentation Wednesday.

Culjiak, one of 10 people serving on the alliance's inaugural board, said the organization is in the initial "exploring" process of the three-phase approach to becoming part of the Main Street program. She said it could take up to five years before the organization reaches the "performing" level. Before that will be the "transforming" stage when improvements begin to take place.

The alliance office is housed in the Century 21 Seaquist & Associates office. The organization has an executive director, Alina Launchbaugh, who comes through the Research Assistance for Rural Economies program through Oregon State University. Her tenure will be at least one year, possibly two, Culjiak said.

One of Launchbaugh's newest tasks will be helping with the creation of four committees required as part of the National Main Street trademarked Four-Point Approach: economic restructuring, design, organization and promotion. Volunteers will be needed for each.

Launchbaugh said once volunteers come forward and committees are created the process will continue to snowball.

"From there it's finding out what events are best and follow our goals," she said. "Then it's gaining community involvement and excitement and, hopefully from that, finding people who want to open businesses in the empty shops."

Work on improvements had already been under way through a merchants and property owners association. Over the summer, for instance, new planters and drought tolerant plants were added to Main Street through a nearly $1,400 grant obtained by the Milton-Freewater Area Foundation. Culjiak said the merchants group will become one with the new alliance so as not to duplicate efforts.

She said she and other board members heard favor Wednesday for continued cleanup programs, some of which will likely be organized in spring.

She said community members are eager to see a turnaround.

"We have every confidence that with guidance we're going to make things happen."


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