What next for Hillsdale Main Street?

From Vision to Mission to rolled-up sleeves

After three hours of Main Street “visioning” about the future of Hillsdale, community participants were asked to “describe in one sentence what you would like your Main Street Commercial District to be known for in five years.”

Those responding were part of a small gathering of 40 or so, but earlier in the evening, the session had attracted a crowd estimated at more than 100.

Main Street meeting

Photo by Peter J. DeCrescenzo http://www.peterdv.com

In five years, Holly Zimmerman said, “Hillsdale FINALLY has it!” a take-off on the district’s “Hillsdale Has It” slogan.

Michael Reunert, a Main Street/Hillsdale Community Foundation board member, said, “It will be a 20-minute business community where you want to spend hours.” The “20 minute” reference echoed with the City of Portland’s call for neighborhoods whose commercial cores can be reached in a 20-minute walk.

Dr. Richard Garfinkle, another board member, said he wants Hillsdale “to look as good as it feels.”

Wes Risher, a past neighborhood assocation president and long-time neighborhood activist, wanted Hillsdale to be known for an as-yet-to-be “cheese festival,” a nod to the area’s dairy past.

Several wanted Hillsdale to be internationally recognized for its “mid-century” architecture.  Yet another wanted Hillsdale to be known as an underground stop on TriMet’s new Beaverton MAX line. One TriMet plan calls for MAX to tunnel beneath Hillsdale.

The Nov. 30 Main Street visioning session in the Wilson High School cafeteria was conducted by Lauren Adkins of the Washington D.C. Main Street office. The exercise is part of a larger process that will help the local Main Street foundation board draft the Hillsdale program’s mission and vision statements, said Suzan Poisner, Hillsdale Main Street executive director.

Those statements, in turn, will serve as guides as Main Street’s five committees organize their work plans, Poisner said. The committees are economic revitalization, promotion, design, operations and sustainability.

The Nov. 30 session asked participants to list the commercial area’s assets, liabilities, opportunities and challenges. They were also asked why the district is important to the community and what qualities it should have in the future.

The answers filled sheets of newsprint that were posted on the cafeteria’s windows. Finally, everyone was given a sheet of green sticky dots to use to vote preferences from the various lists of answers.

The same exercise was held at Hillsdale’s “sister” Main Street districts, NE Alberta and St. Johns. Workshop attendance in Hillsdale significantly surpassed that in the other districts, Main Street staff reported.

The results of Hillsdale’s “dot voting” will be presented to the board as the basis for defining Main Street’s Hillsdale mission and vision.

At the end of the evening, reaction was mixed. Some, like Dave Johnson, a co-owner of Baker & Spice and SweetWares and a Main Street board member, said the comments “re-enforced ” the previously expressed needs for Hillsdale to be a “destination place” and to develop a night life. “We need to be known for something,” he said.

At the same time, he said, Hillsdale “isn’t destitute” but is a place that can be improved.

Mark Seder, who consults with Main Street programs, said that Hillsdale works for commercial property owners because so many commuters pass through the district on Capitol Highway. But he added, commuters weren’t represented among the vision workshop participants.

Some suggested tearing down Hillsdale’s mid-century buildings and starting from scratch with a new, a more accessible and unified layout. But long-time business owner Mike Roach of Paloma Clothing warned, “Every time you rip down a building, you jack up the rents.” He added that higher rents drive out small, local, start-up businesses.

A theme throughout the evening was a fondness for Hillsdale’s small, locally owned shops and services.

Risher, a 20-year veteran of Hillsdale’s planning efforts, observed that in the ’90s, similar meetings had drawn many more people. That planning resulted in rezoning for higher densities and mixed use, but, he said, commercial property owners hadn’t taken advantage of those changes. “Elsewhere, commercial property owners would salivate over those opportunities.”

Instead, Risher said, commercial property owners are “going down the path of least resistance. They are doing what they understand, which is commercial, not mixed use.”

He saw the evening’s comments as “validating our previous work.” The new library, the saving of Rieke Elementary School from closing and the creation of the Farmers Market all received praise. “We need to move to the next level,” he said.

Reposted from The Hillsdale News.

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