Bus tour showing empty buildings coming to Keizer?

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By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

It’s time to get on the bus.

During Monday night’s Keizer City Council work session, councilors discussed the proposed Keizer Economic Development Commission (KEDC).

The commission has been talked about the last few months, but Monday marked the first time for councilors to talk about it in-depth.

For the most part, councilors like parameters suggested by city staff such as Nate Brown, director of Community Development for Keizer.

One notable exception was in terms of how big KEDC should be. As proposed by Brown, the commission would have 11 people, including two business leaders.

“I think 11 people is too big,” councilor Cathy Clark said. “We need a lean, mean shark tank machine. We need to look at what we’re doing and what is effective.”

Mayor Lore Christopher added that some suggested organizations would not necessarily make sense for a business-oriented committee.

“Neighborhood Associations have an important role in the community, but not on River Road,” Christopher said. “Service organizations are important, but not necessarily for this.”

Councilors agreed seven people wasn’t enough, thus settling on having nine members. One would be a councilor, two would be chamber representatives and the other six would be citizens-at-large.

Clark also questioned the term business leaders, mentioned twice in the proposal.

“Any of these people are business leaders,” Clark said. “That term is very generic. I think that term is gushy.”

Christine Dieker, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, suggested giving potential business owners a tour of empty buildings in Keizer. Christopher immediately latched onto the idea.

“That is a terrific idea,” the mayor said. “I want to do an annual bare buildings tour. I can’t believe we haven’t thought of that before. We all would want to do that.”

Dieker noted she borrowed the idea from a person in Hillsboro.

“It will give opportunities to building owners a chance to sell,” she said. “It shows we are interested. It wasn’t my idea, I just borrowed it.”

Councilors Joe Egli and Dennis Koho, along with Brown, met with 16 business people recently to discuss the idea of the committee.

“They want a focus,” Egli said. “They want something that’s going to fulfill a target and be meaningful. They want to see a branding of Keizer, like we did with River Road Renaissance. What opportunities are we missing now?”

Mark Caillier, the former councilor and current chair of the chamber’s Economic Development and Government Affairs committee, said the new committee needs to have a concrete plan developed.

“It’s a marketing plan for the City of Keizer, not the government of Keizer,” he said. “One question brought up this morning was economic development. What are we missing? What have other cities been getting and doing that we haven’t? What are we missing out there? What opportunities are we missing? With our marketing plan, we have to have goals and objectives. That’s what we need out of this.”

At no cost, by the way.

“No funding has been designated for the Economic Development Commission at this time,” Finance director Susan Gahlsdorf confirmed.

Koho emphasized several times he wants the committee to get off the ground sooner rather than later.

“I want to jump in and do something, otherwise it will just sit here for another year,” said Koho, who owns a law firm on River Road.

Business on River Road was another topic of discussion Monday night, along with talk of what groups such as Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR) have done – or not done – to attract businesses to town.

Christopher alluded to three businesses that have shut their doors on River Road in the past two years – including two this year alone – and said it wasn’t the economy that did them in.

“There are three diverse reasons,” the mayor said in reference to Roth’s, Ace Hardware and Porter’s Pub, which she also talked about the following day during her final State of the City address. “I talked with Orville Roth eight years ago. He said they had undersized the Keizer store and it’s killing us. The other stores had to feed that one.

“With Ace, here is a property owner insisting on a 10-year lease,” Christopher added. “I totally appreciate the Franks downsizing and getting ready for retirement. But I take it as a good sign that the owner has that much confidence in River Road to insist on a 10-year lease.”

In regards to Porter’s Pub and owner Dave Thomas, Christopher noted he had no restaurant experience and simply wanted to fulfill a dream.

“I hope he can right himself and we’ll all continue to support him,” Christopher said. “Those are three diverse reasons those businesses didn’t succeed on River Road. We don’t want the broken windows. We want River Road to be healthy and vibrant.”

Building on that, Christopher said she and former councilor Jacque Moir started talking to companies about building medical facilities 12 years ago. That effort has culminated with two medical facilities opening in Keizer this year, including Silverton Health’s clinic which has a grand opening Feb. 20.

“It seriously started 12 years ago when we started talking to those folks,” Christopher said. “That’s the approach I would take. We need to see what would compliment businesses on River Road. It’s about hand-to-hand recruiting.”

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