Let’s say you’re not from around here and you’re headed to the Oregon Coast. After making your way through Corvallis, you come upon a smaller town called Philomath. A downtown area comes into view just past a bank and a gas station. Hmmm, what’s that on the left? That’s not real attractive.
“Honey, do you want to stop and look around?”
“No, just keep driving. Maybe on the way back."
Those types of conversations could be a whole lot different in a few years when the streetscape project becomes a reality. A revamped downtown look just might draw in some of those motorists that are always passing through. It sure would be great if they spent some money in this town.
That’s the first stop this week — Philomath’s downtown. Then we head down to Junction City for Friday football. We end our weekend driving with a stop at the rodeo grounds to sample chili.
Now, let’s get on with the drive.
First stop — Downtown Philomath
Philomath’s downtown corridor will be undergoing significant changes in the next couple of years. For starters, the long-awaited Philomath Downtown Streetscape Improvement Project will become a reality in 2021.
That’s what City Manager Chris Workman told me as we walked around the downtown area on a hot Thursday afternoon. Workman says the city has received commitments from ODOT on the project to occur two years from now. ODOT has $3.7 million earmarked for the Philomath project.
I enjoy exploring small-town Oregon. If I didn’t know what gems we have in our downtown and had no knowledge of Philomath, would I pull over, get out of the car and look around? Probably not, especially if I have my mind on the beach. Something would really need to catch my eye.
That's where the streetscape project comes in. Maybe it'll bring new energy to the downtown and perhaps new businesses that cater more to foot traffic will start popping up. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a sit-down coffee shop or one of those cool bookstores where you can get lost for an hour. (The question is, do those places make any money?).
Although our downtown occupancy rate is higher than we’ve seen in several years, a lot of spots exist in this stretch of town that just appear dated. The area just needs a nice makeover — and something definitely needs to be done about the old gas station/car wash spot.
As the city manager and I walked, we passed by businesses that aren’t exactly open to the public.
“How many businesses do you know that can operate by appointment only and are on Main Street in a downtown?” Workman said. “My point is the rent here is so low and their business is so great, that they don’t really have to do a storefront. They do this work and they’ve got a sign in the door.”
It’s what Workman refers to as underutilized retail space.
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“When the streetscape project comes in, that development spurs other development, improvement spurs other improvement and it starts looking good all through there,” Workman said. “Businesses are going to want to make their places look nicer.”
Let’s hope that’s the case because Philomath has a lot of businesses that care and deserve to make a few more bucks. If we spruce up the place a bit, perhaps that could be the end result.
Can you envision it?
Out of town — Junction City High School
I don’t mean any disrespect to Junction City High School, but that’s not a real fun place to cover a football game. From the looks of folks in those tiny stands behind the visiting team’s bench, it didn’t look like a whole lot of fun to be a spectator either. Could you see much of the action?
I’m sure the school folks are great people and they just do the best they can with the hand they’ve been dealt with those facilities. A new addition from when I last covered a game at Junction City two years ago was a rope that extends the full length of the field. It actually irritated me a bit because it created challenges with trying to make my way up and down the field as I shot photos and kept statistics. There’s just not a whole lot of room in there and the last thing I want to do is get in the way of coaches or players.
The buzzing lights with the generators running added to the ambience and by the third quarter, I was shooing bugs that landed on my clipboard, my arms, my bald spot. The noise made it nearly impossible to figure out what the announcer was saying (which comes in handy when I didn’t see why officials had thrown a penalty flag).
In the end, I figured that's what you would call "home-field advantage." It didn't look so bad on the other side.
Final stop — Philomath Frolic & Rodeo Grounds
The rain was coming down hard when I arrived at the rodeo grounds this afternoon to cover the chili cook-off. It was not the ideal situation for shooting photos, but I’d just have to do my best and make it work.
The chili cook-off drew a heavy response from the local community. Out of the winners, three were from Philomath. The police department took the top fundraising honors. Philomath Frolic & Rodeo won the business division (I know, it’s not a business, but that’s the group that organizers placed them in). And the most impressive win of the day in my view was the Philomath Lions Club taking first in the restaurant division. I had originally thought that it didn’t seem real fair that the Lions Club had to go up against professional food preparers, but it looks like they did just fine.
Then there were the judges. Eddie Van Vlack, the Philomath Youth Activities Club executive director and assistant high school basketball coach, was among those that Police Chief Ken Rueben rounded up.
“I think that they couldn’t find anybody else and Rueben knows that I ask him to volunteer for lots of things so he thought, ‘Eddie can’t tell me no,’” Van Vlack said.
And if Eddie did say no?
“He said something about driving through town, I’d have to take the back roads, stay out of the city limits,” Van Vlack laughed during a classic display of his sense of humor. “I’m just lucky we didn’t have his chili (to judge); that would’ve been a lot of pressure.”