In an effort to jump start part of Newport’s tourism and retail economy, the city’s planning commission will begin Monday night to examine how a new urban renewal district might pump up Newport’s long neglected downtown. Many downtown buildings are old and generally run down. The entire downtown area, from Neff to Angle and from NW 9th to NW 7th, pretty much needs a complete make-over with a few buildings perhaps too far gone to save.
The planning commission will be asked by Community Development Director Derrick Tokos to recommend that the city engage urban renewal consulting firm EcoNorthwest to determine whether a particular area of Newport’s urban blight can be revitalized with an upgraded land use plan, necessary renovations/demolitions and a way to pay for it all.
EcoNorthwest has a statewide reputation for its expertise in urban renewal. They’ve been around for a very long time and have a long list of successful urban renewal projects among many Oregon towns. Tokos will ask the planning commission to consider recommending to the city council to put EcoNorthwest to work on the idea or making major improvements to Newport’s downtown over the next ten years or even farther out.
One idea to relieve traffic congestion through the downtown corridor, with its narrow lanes and tight parking constraints, might be to make Highway 101 one-way north and SW 9th one-way south (or vice versa) with the two corridors coming together somewhere to the north and to the south of the main downtown, something like you see in Corvallis, Coos Bay and Eugene. Such a “couplet” approach to making Highway 101 more civilized through Newport would help spread out the commercial exposure to high traffic volumes as well as opportunities for more convenient parking in areas between, or off to one side of, the main travel lanes.
The full cost of the improvements need not come completely from city tax money. Previous urban renewal projects in Newport have enjoyed considerable outside funding – grants and other revenues from state and federal sources – although the city would be putting a lot of its own money into the mix. In the end, the payoff would be a much stronger performing Newport business sector as well as rising property values which translates into higher tax collections for city services.
If the planning commission recommends thumbs-up to the city council, and the council agrees, then EcoNorthwest would launch a very detailed study into whether an urban renewal project would eventually pay off for the downtown area. The city has used urban renewal to revitalize the Nye Beach area and in the construction of the Performing Arts Center and Visual Arts Center. The city is currently using urban renewal to improve economic development opportunities in the South Beach area along Hatfield Marine Science Drive, traffic flow on 101 south of the bridge and utility upgrades.
The Newport City Planning Commission begins their discussions on the issue Monday night, 6pm, in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.