GRANTS PASS – A community forum on economic development and recovery hosted by the City of Grants Pass Thursday, May 28, revealed plans the city has for supporting local businesses during the phased reopening of the city’s commerce in the wake of restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The combined physical and virtual forum was conducted by City Manager Aaron Cubic with the assistance of city staff. Ten members of the public attended the physical portion of the forum at City Hall, while another nine participants phoned in virtually to hear presentations, ask questions, and offer suggestions.
At the top of the agenda, Josephine County Public Health Director Michael Weber provided an update on the county’s status with regards to the pandemic and current county case numbers.
“We are looking well. In fact, we are looking so well, our numbers are going down,” said Weber.
Weber pointed out that two cases previously thought to be presumptive COVID-19 cases had been removed from the county’s total case number as non-COVID related, bringing the total number of cases in Josephine County to 23, with no known new cases reported in weeks.
“We’re actually very comfortable with where we’re at,” said Weber.
Weber urged residents to continue to use “common sense” moving forward, but said he saw no reason the county would not be allowed to move into to Phase Two of reopening, once new guidelines are issued from the governor’s office.
“We often times don’t get information any earlier than you do,” he said, with expectation that the governor’s Phase Two guidelines will be issued next week prior to the June 5 threshold date.
In anticipation of entering Phase Two, Jon Bowen of Experience Grants Pass unveiled a marketing plan to present “happenings” in the city’s historic merchant district through a program he called “Dine In The District.”
Bowen, the city’s Tourism and Promotions contractor is resigning effective June 30, but is assisting the city with a transition to an interim plan until a long-range replacement plan can be devised.
In the meantime, Bowen said the city needs positive messaging and “something to get excited about” during the phases of reopening.
“We need a message to the population that we’re open for business,” said Bowen.
Bowen’s Dine In The District would be comprised of a series of evenings when two streets within the city’s Central Business District would be closed to accommodate setting up tables and chairs local restaurants could use to expand their customer seating options while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Under current restrictions, “most restaurants at best can do half capacity,” said Bowen.
He said he envisions two consecutive weeks during which the promotion could occur Thursday – Saturday. Restaurants will have the opportunity to select sections mapped out on the streets and serve their customers outdoors. Other cities are conducting similar programs, which is where he developed the idea, he said.
He also unveiled a potential t-shirt design for serving staff to wear with a slogan that reads: “I love serving G.P.” where the word love is replaced by a classic heart.
Director of Parks and Community Development Lora Glover explained further details regarding the city’s existing sidewalk café ordinances and permit processes. Social distancing guidelines have increased the distance required between sidewalk tables, said Glover.
“That will be somewhat of a crunch to meet those requirements,” Glover said.
The city will assist restaurants who wish to adapt their current permit or apply for a new permit with adhering to the restrictions, she said.
Cubic provided an update on the city’s temporary take-out parking program. The program was established within days of the initial mandatory lockdowns to assist local restaurants with converting to take-out only operations. Temporary signs were created and distributed to restaurants by city staff.
Cubic said the city will now begin contacting those restaurants to retrieve the signs as the restaurants develop their new dine-in plans under social distancing restrictions.
Completing a full agenda, Cubic and Glover discussed the results of a recent audit report delivered to the city’s Performance Audit, Visioning & Enhancement Committee (PAVE) on Travel, Tourism and Downtown Services.
Glover, who retires from her current position at the end of May, will be retained by the city to assist with developing an interim tourism transition plan until the PAVE committee and city council can decide on an ultimate plan based on the recommendations of the audit report. The full report is available to the public by contacting Business Advocate Susan Seereiter, said Glover.
“Retaining our marketing plan was identified as important in the audit. They did emphasize to move forward with the marketing,” said Glover.
Though marketing tourism in Grants Pass will continue, Glover said the future of major events such as the annual Back to the Fifties Weekend and Art Along The Rogue is uncertain.
In the meantime, “happenings” such as Dine In The District and other micro-events could serve to help promote local business, she said.
Shannon Holder, a leader in the downtown merchant community who manages a social media group designed to promote the Central Business District, said she was encouraged by the details revealed during the forum.
“We have an amazing group, and I hope we can all use some of everybody’s ideas. Everyone has great ideas,” said Holder.
Holder said local merchants received a lot of early support from customers when the stores first reopened under Phase One guidelines, including visits from tourists.
“Some people visited every store that was open,” Holder said.
Bowen and city staff confirmed that the city’s downtown Welcome Center has also reopened with limited hours, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday – Friday.
The forum concluded with assurances that further details will be forthcoming based on additional feedback from the business community.
“We’re at our best when we receive input from you,” said Cubic.