St. Helens Economic Development Corporation (SHEDCO) was awarded $100,000 from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant for the rehabilitation and expansion of El Tapatio Restaurant on Columbia Boulevard.
The project will repair storm damage to the roof, install fire sprinklers, upgrade plumbing, expand the restaurant 1,400 square feet, and create a new dining area, game room, tortilla station, men’s restroom, and an outdoor patio area with a fountain. During the winter storms this past January, the El Tapatio building sustained significant roof damage, limiting operations.
El Tapatio has until May 2020 to use the grant for the project, but they expect to complete the work by September 2017.
The El Tapatio project was chosen through a project selection process. A letter announcing the grant program was sent to property owners in the Main Street Districts. SHEDCO scored the proposals based on project capacity, potential positive impact to the Main Street District, and alignment with the grant program priorities.
SHEDCO Chair Al Peteresen said the grant required a quick turnaround time for everyone involved. He said as soon as SHEDCO learned of the grant opportunity, notices were mailed to all the property owners along the business corridor in St. Helens asking for building submissions and renovation ideas for the SHEDCO board to consider.
Petersen said a range of proposals were received, including a request to construct a new building across from St. Helens Market Fresh, three requests for historic renovations (the former Childrens Closet building, the Masonic building and the Chamber of Commerce building), and the request from El Tapatio.
With just one submission allowed, the SHEDCO board selected El Tapatio, finding it to be the strongest possibility of the lot.
Main Street Program Coordinator Jasmine Jordan said she sent letters to all 212 of the property owners within the Main Street District and just eight responses were received.
Jordan said proposals must be directly linked to at least one of eight different community needs that the state deemed necessary for community development, and she noted that El Tapatio fits four out of eight needs, including new jobs and/or job retention, new or retention of a viable business, rehabilitation of properties, and the need for pedestrian traffic.
With many business owners saying there is a need for more foot traffic in the Main Street District to justify staying open, Jordan said only a small number of businesses naturally attract traffic after 5 p.m., such as restaurants, bars and cafes. She said the gap in the hospitality market reduces foot traffic and makes it difficult to attract visitors.
“Since many of the Main Street retailers deal in niche antique and boutique merchandise, retaining viable hospitality business that can draw in customers goes a long way in supporting the Main Street District as a whole,” Jordan said.
Jordan said she wished more property owners had offered proposals.
“I know that some people just did not have enough time before the deadline to come up with a proposal; others could not make the 30 percent matching fund that was required,” she said. “For example, the owners of the theater contacted me with a great idea to restore their ballroom, but they said the timeline was too short and maybe in a year they would be ready to apply.”
Proposals were scored related to how they met the goals of the grant program, help SHEDCO’s mission to provide leadership and coordination for economic development in St. Helens, meeting logistical requirements, and matching with larger city development plans.
“Of the four that applied, the El Tapatio project fit these needs the most, and we are ecstatic that the State of Oregon’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the State Legislator agrees that this project will help us fulfill some of the needs of the Main Street District,” Jordan said.
Jordan said the state has not determined if a second grant cycle will be had next year, but if it does, SHEDCO hopes seeing the El Tapatio makeover will inspire other property owners to submit proposals.
“Of course, not a single project will bring in enough traffic to solve all of our economic development needs,” she said.” But we are hoping that developers, business owners, community members, tourist, locals, and everyone will start to see that St. Helens is worth investing in.”
Jordan said even though the grant would have paid for up to 70 percent of the project, in this case the $100,000 is only funding about 35 percent, and El Tapatio is paying for the other 65 percent themselves.
Oregon Heritage, a division of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, awarded 28 matching grants worth $2,455,700 to Oregon Main Street Network organizations across the state for building projects that encourage economic revitalization.
Projects ranged from façade improvement to elevator access and seismic upgrades, and awards ranged from $17,500-$100,000. The department funded projects that best conveyed the ability to stimulate private investment and local economic development, and best fit within the community’s long-range plan for downtown vitality.
The Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant was created during the 2015 legislative session, and placed within the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. The legislation established a permanent fund for the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant, and provided an initial infusion of funds from the sale of lottery bonds. The funds must be used to award grants to participating Oregon Main Street Network organizations to acquire, rehabilitate or construct buildings to facilitate community revitalization.
The program also requires that at least 50 percent of the funds go to rural communities as defined in the bill. Oregon Main Street Network program provides resources, education, training, and services that preserve and enhance the built environment, protect local heritage and cultural resources, and stimulate the economic vitality of participating communities.
Originally Published in The Chronicle
1805 S. Columbia Blvd.
St. Helens, OR 97051
Phone: (503) 397-0116