BATTLE GROUND — It may take more than a dash of fresh paint, a flower pot or two and a few park benches to revitalize Old Town Battle Ground.
It will take money, know-how and something even more important. “It will take buy-in,” said Robert Maul, Battle Ground’s community development director.
A loose partnership between the city and the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce has been forged in an effort to revitalize the city’s historic business district using a state-sponsored urban renewal program.
The Main Street program, as it’s called, provides redevelopment guidance, as well as tax incentives, to commercial districts that have fallen on hard times. City leaders have expressed interest in pursuing the program, if Old Town businesses are on board with it.
When business districts are accepted into the program, they form committees to raise money and set improvement goals.
Across Washington, the Main Street program has moved into 13 cities, according to the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, which manages the program. It’s been used in cities as far afield as Olympia, Port Townsend and Walla Walla.
Nationwide, about 2,000 communities have taken part in the program, battling everything from the influx of boarded-up buildings to the invasion of look-alike strip malls. For Old Town, the Main Street program would be a long time coming.
“This has been talked about for the past 10 to 12 years,” Maul said.
Although Old Town Battle Ground has shown signs of recovery, with vintage and home décor stores opening their doors recently, there’s still work to be done, business leaders say. The district is characterized by its eclectic mix of historic buildings inhabited by mom-and-pop shops, interspersed by patches of blight. But before a unified, aesthetically pleasing business core takes shape, various interests will have to agree on how to do it.
Nola Cross, co-owner of Battle Ground Computers, said she looks to downtown Camas, which has used the Main Street program, for inspiration on how to revive Old Town Battle Ground.
There, a handful of business owners worked together to redevelop downtown and market it to the public.
At the intersection of North Parkway Avenue and East Main Street, Cross’ business is hunkered in a building at an intersection considered the gateway of Old Town, across the street from a shuttered gas station.
“Right now, Main Street is like a tunnel,” she said, with drivers zooming through the busy thoroughfare as if they had blinders on. In her 13 years in Old Town, as the co-owner of several businesses, Cross said she’s seen the neighborhood struggle to find an identity or attract a following because there’s little to catch the eye.
She’d like to see flower baskets hanging from lamp posts and a “mall feel” within Old Town. She’d also like to see diagonal parking added to give people an opportunity to leave their cars and walk around.
But Cross fears that with the development of a new Walmart on the corner of state Highway 503 and Scotton Way, Old Town will have to work extra hard to attract prospective patrons.
Carrie Schulstad, the executive director of the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce, is spreading the word about Battle Ground’s nascent Main Street program. She was one of the business leaders involved with organizing Camas’ program.
She emphasizes that it’s up to business and property owners to create eye-catching — albeit tasteful — facades for their buildings and to brainstorm events that would attract people to the district with the help of the Main Street program.
It’s up to the city to provide other resources, including incentives, to foster growth within the district.
“I believe absolutely that if you don’t have a thriving historic business core then the rest of the city suffers,” Schulstad said.
So far, businesses have expressed interest in the program, she said.
What business leaders say they’d like to see encompasses everything from public art and gathering spaces to improved marketing and more activities in the district.
And even if they aren’t game-changers for Old Town, the little things do help: A dash of paint here, a flower pot there and few park benches scattered around.