Creating a unified and attractive look for John Day’s Main Street by simply painting buildings and adding false fronts could maintain the city’s historic character while increasing property values and enhancing John Day’s small-town neighborhood spirit, local artist Kim Randleas told the John Day City Council May 28.

Randleas said she’s been working on a Main Street vision for John Day for about 20 years. A successful look for downtown will increase foot traffic on Main Street, add charm and vibrancy, update storefronts and entice visitors to stop on their way through town.

There are challenges, she said. In addition to financial difficulties and the mix of architecture styles, Main Street businesses need to communicate with each other, Randleas said. A “cookie cutter” approach is not a good end result.

Randleas advised strategic use of color to create both unity and uniqueness, while employing false fronts to tie buildings together with different heights. She noted that a historic look can be created without looking too “Western.”

The models Randleas looks to for establishing a coherent downtown look are the historic Grant County Bank building, now used by Eastern Oregon Realty, and the historic Johnson Bros. building, now occupied by Mosier’s Home Furnishing.

The bank building’s positive elements include beautiful color, sharp-looking white trim, canvas awnings and upgraded windows and doors, she said.

Painting buildings is a lower cost approach to upgrading Main Street that provides opportunities for individual expression and allows scheme changes as businesses change hands. Phasing in is possible, she said.

The challenge is to coordinate colors with neighbors. Cooperation will be key, she said, and repainting will become necessary. The goal is to add character while avoiding a tourist town facade or a fake look, she said.

Randleas has used Photoshop to change colors of images of current storefronts so owners can see different possibilities. She said she has met with many Main Street owners, and four have already committed to repainting.

The council was very supportive of Randleas’ efforts. Councilor Dave Holland noted that the city intended to continue applying for state grants to support her effort.

The city recently submitted applications for state grants on behalf of two Main Street businesses. The city also acquired the Weaver Building in November 2017 so it could be remodeled into a mixed-use commercial and residential building.

The city used a $100,000 Main Street Revitalization Grant to purchase the 120-year-old, 12,000-square-foot Weaver Building. At the time, four businesses operated on the ground floor and a single tenant lived upstairs.

The city hired Alpine Abatement to remove asbestos and lead paint from the interior walls of one downstairs business unit and all 6,000 feet of the second floor. Many of the walls were stripped down to studs, with most of the $75,000 abatement cost covered by a state Department of Environmental Quality brownfield grant.

The council held a public hearing on proposed conditions for the sale of the building on May 28. Citing a 2018 property tax statement, Green said the real market value is $32,250 for the lot and $106,710 for the building, for a total of $138,960.

According to terms agreed upon by the council, the city will take sealed bids from interested buyers on June 25. Buyers must include their plans for the building.

The city will entertain the option of owner financing — accepting installment payments — for the sale of the building, which is included in the John Day Urban Renewal Area and qualifies for a 15% rebate on eligible improvements through the city’s incentive program.

Sherrie Rininger, who owns the boutique on the ground floor, asked how the three current tenants would be protected from the new buyer. The council agreed to include some type of protections when the sale conditions are brought back on June 25.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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