The fourth year of the Hermiston Urban Renewal Agency (HURA) proved to be another banner year, as the increased value of the district has topped 20 percent, and 110 public parking spaces are now available for new commercial development.
“If the main goals of an Urban Renewal Agency are to increase the taxable value and eliminate barriers to new private investment, then I think we can safely say we’re hitting it out of the park so far,” said Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan.
The total assessed value of the HURA has increased by approximately 20 percent since its inception in 2014. The current value of all properties within the district now stands at $50.5 million, up from $42.2 million at the creation of the district.
The bulk of the new value comes from the development of a 93-room Holiday Inn Express which opened on a former brownfield site in the downtown core. The development was awarded a $36,400 façade grant from the HURA, and the city of Hermiston also awarded $50,000 to relocate a city sewer line from the property.
“The HURA’s revenues are up almost $100,000 in the first year that the hotel has hit the tax rolls; which would be about a one year return on our public investments,” Morgan said. “I wish all of our investments paid back so quickly.”
Another HURA project which helped attract the new hotel was the creation of a downtown Festival Street area which can host events and activities for hotel patrons and the community at large. Festival Street plan documents will go out to bid today, with construction occurring in early 2018.
Private developments aren’t the only investments attracted to the downtown core recently. The Hermiston City Council’s decision to locate the new Harkenrider Center, home of the Senior Center, on vacant land in the downtown is also injecting approximately $2.7M of investment in the center of town. Although the facility won’t directly contribute to the area’s valuation, the community center is expected to increase visits to the downtown and add another element of vibrancy to the area, said Morgan.
“This is all about contributing to a critical mass,” Morgan said. “The more people we can get to come downtown on a daily basis, the more viable it makes the area for investment by private businesses which depend on passing traffic.”
Increased traffic often means a need for more places to park, which is why the City and HURA are excited about a recent public-private partnership to increase parking availability and reduce barriers to future development on the west side of downtown. Through a deal approved by the city council and the HURA in September, a private developer agreed to build a new 50 space paved parking lot and public event shade structure on Union Pacific Railroad right of way between Locust Avenue and Orchard Avenue.
The new parking lot, which has been completed and is now open to the public, will make it much easier for other nearby properties to develop in the future, because new developments within 500 feet will be able to count spaces in the parking lot toward their required additional parking on a first-come first-served basis. The city council also approved a resolution in November to establish a similar incentive program for two existing under-utilized city-owned parking lots near Orchard Avenue and S.W. Third Street. Morgan said those 60 spaces can also now be counted toward a new business’ minimum off-street parking requirement.
“Adding these new spaces, and re-classifying the others, won’t just make it easier to develop a bare lot on the west side of downtown,” Morgan said. “These spaces will make it much easier for buildings in that commercial zone to make the conversion from residential to commercial.”