COTTAGE GROVE, OR–As vacancies widen in Downtown Cottage Grove, the local chamber of commerce is seeking ways to revitalize downtown and keep local shoppers from heading into Eugene and Springfield.

One idea being bandied about is to create a special downtown taxing district that would raise money for improvement projects. Who would pay the tax, what the district’s boundaries would be and exactly what the money would be spent on are still in development. Support for the idea is also unclear.

Very clear is the state of Downtown. Due to unprofitability, retirement and other reasons, more than a few retail shops have become vacant storefronts in the past few years. They are following the lead of larger traffic generators, including Safeway and the US Postal Service office. Safeway left in 1994 and moved a half mile to the east, and the Postal service followed it earlier this year.

All told, the historic city center is home to at least a half-dozen empty storefronts, and such a situation rarely begets anything but more empty storefronts. Nonetheless, to try and stop the bleeding, the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce has elected officials to form a committee on how to rejuvenate the Downtown area. Aside from the tax idea, which would likely take a year or more to implement, there are nearer-term goals, if no concrete plans to achieve them.

Attracting a bakery, an ice cream shop, a specialized toy store and a brew pub are a few of those goals. These are businesses that would be complimentary to the Wal-Mart located about a mile to the east, next to Interstate 5 at the city’s main interchange, and that would keep the community from spending the non-Wal-Mart money where they work, which is 20 minutes south in Eugene.

On a separate track but nonetheless encouraging are recent plans submitted to the city for renovation of the Homestead Furniture store on Main Street. The store and the two buildings it comprises are owned by the local Scoggin family. They are also part of the Downtown historic district that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The Scoggins had part of the building’s façade torn off in the mid-1990s, but stopped work on the project. The building is now the city’s most complained about structure, though maybe not for long.

N.R. Scoggin & Son Inc. has submitted plans for rehabilitation of the two buildings, as well as an adjacent commercial and residential building, formerly a bank. The planning department is recommending its approval at a Sept. 30th meeting of the city’s planning commission.

The Scoggins are getting state tax breaks that could help them finance the renovations. State approval in 1994 of the Downtown district’s historic status allowed property owners to apply to have their assessed property values frozen at the 1994 level for 15 years.

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