The following letter was published as a Guest Column in The Bulletin on March 8, 2018. Find the original link here.
As a third-generation Bendite, my family has watched Bend grow from a town with a population under 10,000 to one of 90,000 plus. While there have been growing pains and many changes over the years, I still believe that Bend is just as magical of a place to live, work and raise a family as it was when my grandparents moved here 50 years ago.
Rather than fight the inevitability of continued growth, I think it is particularly important for millennials, like myself, to actively engage in city development and planning.
An area of particular interest to me is the Bend Central District (BCD), which is just east of downtown between the railroad tracks and NE Fourth Street. As you drive through it on Third Street, you may not think this nondescript district has the potential to unlock a better future for Bend, but as a landowner and business owner here, I believe it does.
The low density of activity and underutilized land across the 206 acres of the central district could provide space for new housing and offices close to downtown as our population grows. Since fewer than 150 people live in this area, I see it has a huge opportunity area in solving the growing housing problem, as well as a space for restaurants, retailers and craftsmen to thrive. Additionally, by making the streets safer for people traveling by foot, bike or car, we can improve critical connections between the east and west sides of town.
The city of Bend has rezoned the district to allow for new building types to be built as it develops into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. Many landowners, like myself, are interested in investing in the heart of Bend, but there are barriers blocking its potential that no individual landowner can address on her own. Because there are several hundred different landowners in this area, it will require a focused effort and collaboration between the public and private sectors for this revitalization to be possible.
My sisters and I own and run the Bend Three Sisters Inn and Suites, and we have become very familiar with the challenges of running a business in the central district. Even though our hotel is only a few blocks from downtown Bend, we continually advise our guests not to walk there due to poor sidewalk conditions, high traffic speeds and the unpleasant tunnel at the Franklin Avenue underpass. We frequently witness a lot of illegal activity occurring on our block, particularly the area around the bottle drop redemption center on NE Second Street at the rear of our hotel.
I’m very excited that a broad coalition of people, including landowners, business owners, neighborhoods, nonprofits, developers and technical advisers have come together to make a recommendation to the city of Bend that it should implement urban renewal in the central district and nearby opportunity areas.
Urban renewal allows the city to capture investments made in a certain area and use that increase in value to fund projects that enhance quality of life, create opportunities for housing and jobs, and improve connections. It was under this format that downtown Bend was revitalized, and I believe it would be the perfect catalyst for dramatic improvements to be made within the central district.
Bend is my hometown, and I am committed to finding creative solutions to how we can grow without losing the charm that we all know and love. With careful and insightful planning, we can ensure that growth enhances our community rather than strains it. Join us at www.bcdinitiative.org.
— Ashley Evert of Bend is part owner of Bend Three Sisters Inn and Suites.