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City hopes to put a better face forward to improve economic vitality and charm

A house on Harbor Drive, one of the city's main entryways, sits abandoned and deteriorating. (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Friday, April 6, 2018

Warrenton is about to follow a rural roadmap to success.

This week the city applied for and is nearly assured of becoming a project of Rural Development Initiatives, a 26-year-old nonprofit organization devoted to helping Oregon’s small communities improve economic vitality.

“It feels like the time is right,” said Mary Bosch, director of rural economic vitality for RDI, which is based in Eugene. The nonprofit receives 95 percent of its funding from foundations, such as the Ford Family Foundation.

Bosch, who is on the selection committee for which rural communities get help, said Warrenton is a shoe-in. “From my perspective, it has an excellent chance of acceptance, maybe 95 percent assured.”

Bosch gave a presentation to the City Commission Tuesday night on what the group would help Warrenton accomplish. RDI has worked with more than 80 other Oregon communities through something called “Economic Vitality Roadmap Services.”

The organization will train and help community leaders revitalize downtown, develop a new image, improve Hammond’s commercial district and capitalize on the city’s two marinas.

Part of image development includes getting rid of eyesores on its main streets.

“Earl Ely’s old house on Harbor. That’s a big dent in the door of the city of Warrenton,” Commissioner Rick Newton said.

“We should also deal with the plank in our eye, which is right across the street,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said, referring to the closed gas station surrounded by junk that’s across Main Avenue from City Hall.

Work would begin in May, should all go as planned.

“In the best of all possible worlds, we start May 1 and go, like, four to five months,” Bosch said. “It’s not a long, drawn-out thing.”

The process would involve community leaders stepping forward and working on specific targets.

“There’s something unique in every town,” Bosch told commissioners. “It’s about civic engagement and also about civic leadership.”

The value of RDI’s contribution in launching Warrenton’s economic vitality program is about $40,000, Bosch said.

“I’m really pleased with the response and it feels like Warrenton will benefit greatly,” she said, “not just because there’s a lot of enthusiasm, but the timing has to be right. …

“Warrenton is on the map as a regional commercial center. If Astoria doesn’t want those retail establishments, we’ll take it.”

A bicyclist rides past a closed gas station across from City Hall that's surrounded by junk left behind by a former tenant. (Cindy Yingst)

A house on South Main Avenue at 10th Street, now owned by the county due to a tax lien, mars the city's main drag. (Cindy Yingst)

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