During introductions toward the beginning of last week’s inaugural meeting of a stakeholders committee for the Philomath Downtown Streetscape Improvement Project, longtime resident Carole Richardson held up the front page of a 2009 edition of the Philomath Bulletin, a newspaper serving the community at the time.
Headlines and an artist’s drawings informed readers about a project that would brighten the downtown.
“We’ve lived here for 30 years and a discussion like this has been on everyone’s lips ever since we’ve lived here — if only they would fix up the downtown,” Richardson said. “All these people say that all the time and we feel bad about it.”
But now, there is light at the end of the tunnel with funding beginning to fall into place and discussion reigniting on the desired downtown look. The process has picked up right where it left off in 2014 when Philomath was denied a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant.
“I guess I was hoping this would happen in my lifetime,” former mayor and longtime volunteer Dale Collins said.
Richardson said she wanted to sit on the stakeholder committee to provide input on the way she envisions Philomath in the future.
“We live here, we want to drive though and be proud of this town and think it’s just a cool, neat town,” Richardson said. “If this went along and we got really good-looking streetscapes, the façade program is huge with all these old buildings, you could have something where they can make it better.”
The project in its current form carries with it a $13 million price tag with $7 million coming from Philomath Urban Renewal District funds and another $3.7 million from the Oregon Department of Transportation. That leaves $2.3 million and if funds cannot be secured, the project may need to be downscaled.
Still, for those involved, the revival of the streetscape project has been exciting. John McGhee, who was elected chair of the committee at the March 21 meeting, was among those involved with the preliminary work.
“I’m a civil engineer so it’s right up my alley,” McGhee said when asked why he wanted to be involved. “We’re in between 12th and 13th streets, so making sure that it’s attractive is an economic benefit to us.”
The genesis of the project followed the 2007 completion of the Highway 20 and 34 couplet project. Two years later, the Philomath Downtown Association completed a design and business study.
“The engineering, the real engineering stuff didn’t happen until about ’11,” said McGhee, who runs an engineering and surveying company. “My wife owns our building — I rent space there — and we’ve been involved with everything. She (Kay McGhee) was the PDA president for a while.”
When asked if the vision of the project is currently in line with his own, McGhee said, “Entirely — because I was involved with the preliminary work. So, it’s not at all a surprise. I think these were the same drawings we did then.”
A power point presentation shown to the committee last week included the same conceptual artist renderings as had been seen in 2009 — and published in the Bulletin that Richardson displayed.
Bill Hollings, Murray, Smith & Associates principal engineer, went over the project with the committee members and told them he wanted input on the “look and feel you want for your town.” Several brought up facets of the projects from pedestrian and bike paths to future vehicle parking to the development of design standards.
“The pedestrian thing, a lot of folks touched on it,” McGhee said. “It’s a little scary. We have 80-foot right-of-ways — quite often 60-foot is a common — so we could land C-130 aircraft on Main Street. Even though some folks don't like the notion of (curb) bulb-outs, it does make negotiating the street easier for pedestrians, especially pedestrians who are in a wheelchair and can’t be seen by other people and so they’re out there where they can see and be seen by drivers.”
Chris Workman, Philomath city manager, said the bulb-outs, which are located near intersections and pedestrian crossings, provides a visual to drivers that studies have shown slow down traffic. Still, a few others didn’t seem to agree they were such a good thing and undoubtedly there will be future discussion on the matter beyond this first meeting, which basically focused on an overview.
Coming up with just the right theme and preserving Philomath’s greatest assets were on the minds of many.
Richardson has been among the volunteers heavily involved in Philomath’s past beautification efforts, including involvement with Collins on the flower basket program and pulling weeds on the east and west entrances to town.
“The medians that are rock now, well that’s just crushing to a lot of us who care so much about this town and have worked so hard,” Richardson said. “We’re just trying to make it a really beautiful place to drive through and be so proud of it. That’s the whole thing.”
The committee plans to meet again April 18.