Roseburg residents, merchants support downtown plaza idea

Merchants, a former Roseburg mayor and the director of the Douglas County Museum are urging the City Council to build a plaza in downtown Roseburg.

Downtown Roseburg Association members recommended the city buy the closed Rite Aid and raze it to make room. The council took no action in a meeting last week during which some members were skeptical about creating a plaza.

The plaza, according to the downtown association, would cost about $2 million and could be paid for with a combination of public and private funds.

Realtor Melony Hakola asked the council to accept an offer and buy the building for $925,000, half the current listing price.

"It's available now. Is it going to be available a year from now? Five years from now? Not if I can help it," said Hakola, who represents the building's owner, Tony Cedolini of San Jose, Calif.

She said Cedolini lowered the price because he loves Roseburg and is enthusiastic about a plaza.

The vice president of the downtown association, Gary Leif, said the council should act quickly. A plaza could host farmers markets and weekly events to draw people downtown, he said.

"You screw around with this and I guarantee you, this is gonna be a junk store or an antique store that's gonna be a junk store," he said. "You have to be visionaries to see this. It's gonna go away. It's not gonna be here forever and I'm gonna be the first one to tell you, I told you so."

Roseburg Community Development Director Brian Davis outlined a $3 million plan to improve downtown. Davis suggested the council use about $1 million for a plaza and $2 million on other projects, including improving building facades, benches and lights.

Davis and Community Planner Paul Hintz presented the council, which was meeting as the Roseburg Urban Renewal Agency, with the results of an online survey taken by about 170 residents. Respondents rated the plaza as their No. 1 priority for improving downtown.

"The overwhelming response was that a plaza or gathering area downtown was what was most needed," Davis said.

He said city planners are not recommending a particular place for a plaza. He said the Rite Aid site would be good, but there are other possibilities.

Councilman Tom Ryan expressed skepticism about the project. He said he had received more calls about the plaza than any other recent issue.

He said most calls were from citizens opposed to the plaza, and many feared the plaza would attract homeless campers. He suggested most of the survey's respondents were probably from downtown business owners.

"I think it's important we get past the kumbaya stage on this," Ryan said. "I'm just saying that there is a lot of opposition out there."

When public comments were taken during the meeting Monday, all but one out of 10 speakers were in favor of developing a plaza.

The museum director, Gardner Chappell, said a plaza is a brilliant idea and would attract visitors. "This town has the potential to be an amazing tourism destination," he said.

A former Roseburg mayor, Lois Allen, said Roseburg residents have been seeking improvements such as those outlined in Davis' plan since she was in office. Allen served as mayor in the 1980s.

The lone dissenter was Roseburg resident Ashley Hicks, who said she thought public safety, including problems with homeless people downtown should be the council's top priority.

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