A consulting firm hired by the City of Hermiston has started a study that could help gauge whether Hermiston would benefit from an urban renewal district .
The City Council in mid-July approved an $18,130 feasibility study that is slated for completion at the end of the year.
An urban renewal district would use tax-increment financing, which would freeze property tax collected by the city inside a recommended area or set of boundaries. Taxes from increases in assessed value in the designated area after the “freeze” would be diverted to fund improvements within the district. Other funding for the district would come from the city's Transient Room Tax Fund as an economic development. Agencies that use property tax such as cities and schools cannot use an increase in revenue from the higher property values until the district expires.
The study will determine if Hermiston could be a successful site for such a district.
“This study will give us a better idea of whether or not an urban renewal district will actually work in Hermiston,” City Planner Clint Spencer said. “We have to be very careful because all of the taxing districts involved will essentially forego some future revenue for a time.”
Hermiston City Manager Ed Brookshier said the timing is right for the city to move forward with the study now that the Umatilla County Fair and the Farm-City Pro Rodeo are scheduled to move to the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center. Consultants from Stiven Planning & Development Services and Johnson & Reid will tour the city to develop potential boundaries.
Spencer has produced a tentative plan to include up to a half-mile rectangle-shaped district roughly bordered by Gladys Avenue on the north, Fourth Street on the east, Highland Avenue to the south and Seventh Street to the west.
Councilor George Anderson, who serves as a liaison to the city’s Business Advisory Committee, supports the district . Urban renewal has been a pivotal topic for the new committee, which met Thursday evening.
“It's not huge dollars but it's a start and it's something that can go on for a long time,” Anderson said.
If Hermiston establishes an urban renewal district, the largest city in Eastern Oregon would join more than 50 other cities in Oregon with the same designation, including The Dalles and Pendleton.
Representatives from both cities detailed successful improvements to their downtown areas through urban renewal district funds.
Following a recession during the 1980s, The Dalles created a district in the downtown area in 1990, said Dan Durow, Director of Community Development for The Dalles.
“We had a pretty significant downturn in the economy,” Durow said. “We were pushing about 18 percent unemployment. We were one of the hardest hit counties in the state. We were suffering a lot.”
Two aluminum plants had closed and approximately 1,000 people were out of work, he said.
A group of business leaders got together to figure out how to help the town and one idea was to create an urban renewal district. A part of the success for district included hiring a consultant well-versed in urban renewal, according to Durow.
“He was really valuable in helping us get that first plan,” Durow said.
Durow said it can take several years to build up enough funding for a substantial project from urban renewal.
“It took us a full 10 years to build that (assessed) value to where we were actually able to sell that first bond,” Durow said.
But in 2001, the city utilized urban renewal funds for a more than $3 million improvement project that included improvements to 10 blocks in the downtown area. The city also put in new traffic lights, curbs, a water main and added design elements such as historic lighting and concrete crosswalks.
“We essentially went from building face to building face and we totally rebuilt the streets and the sidewalks,” Durow said.
Since 1990, Durow estimates the city has utilized $13 million in Urban Renewal funds as well as funding from state and federal grants and private investments.
“For every $1 of urban renewal (money) there has been approximately $1 (in) grants and approximately $2 in private investments,” Durow said.
According to Durow, the city is currently in the progress of working on at least eight more projects using urban renewal funds.
“We're doing really well when it comes to our economy. Urban renewal is a big part of that,” Durow said.
Closer to home, Pendleton established an urban renewal district in 2003.
Keith May chairs the Pendleton Development Commission, which carries out the city's urban renewal district.
The district has created multiple jobs in Pendleton, according to May, as well as revitalizing the Round-Up City largely through facade or building-front renovation projects.
Senior Planner Evan MacKenzie said 40 percent of renewal district funds were utilized to renovate building fronts using facades for any business owner who requested funding.
Key factors for creating a successful urban renewal district include having help from public volunteers as well as measuring and accomplishing specific goals within the district , according to May.
“It takes the whole city getting behind it,” May said.
Pendleton has made significant strides in improvements to the downtown since the creation of the district.
“Our downtown was pretty dead,” May said. “It's not right where we want it to be yet but it's well on its way.”