This month, the Portland Development Commission is launching a pilot program on Northeast Halsey Street to improve businesses along the corridor. Called the Commercial District Improvement Pilot Program, the PDC is granting $10,000 to five to seven businesses chosen from a pool of applicants to perform innovative improvements on their stores.

To spearhead the pilot project, PDC hired Seanette Corkill, owner of retail design firm FrontdoorBack, as design consultant. Corkill, along with PDC program manager Susan Kuhn, presented the details of the pilot program at the April 16 meeting of the Halsey-Weidler corridor work group.

After the meeting, Corkill told the Memo that the program stresses retail improvements to make the corridor more pedestrian-friendly and improve visibility “to make sure [businesses] look attractive and welcoming and [they] get noticed in a positive way for the people who are driving to and through the district.”

Corkill’s approach is to emphasize the essentials to make up effective storefronts, such as functional and decorative lighting. Signage is also important.

“What does your sign look like?” she asked. “Are your name and your font and your logo readable, [are they] attractive? Is there clutter that we can take off?”

Sometime a business district will contain too many signs “so that somebody driving down the street just ignores all of them,” she said. She also analyzes the colors of buildings, including their trim and planters.

“If you’ve got multiple tenants in a building, sometimes it makes sense to divide the building up into different colors so we know as customers, ‘Oh, there’s three different people in there,’” she said.

People usually see color better than signage or text. She looks at appropriate landscaping as well as unattractive clutter, such as temporary banners floating about. Windows should be clear and easy to see through.

“If somebody has a business and they put up blinds, it’s a way of saying, ‘Don’t look here and don’t interact with me,’” she said.

Painting a mural on the side of a building might draw in customers, as will appropriate awnings and public spaces.

Each business selected for the program will have a customized set of solutions created for them. “We want to do a cluster of [improved businesses] so that somebody driving down the street doesn’t think one thing is an accident; when you have a whole group of them, suddenly you have a place.”

Refusing to impose some stylized design on each business, she said, “I’m very sensitive to making sure that [the new design] really reflects who they truly are.”

Corkill will present a seminar called “The Seven Essentials of Effective Storefronts” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20 at Bradford’s Sports Lounge, 10346 N.E. Halsey St. At that event, three audience members will win free retail improvement consultations from Corkill. “I look at it as economic development through improved aesthetics,” she said.

After the meeting, Kuhn explained that PDC will pay up to $10,000 per business to make the improvements. “In addition to that, they get Corkill’s time to assess the building and prioritize the improvements; she’ll also help them moving forward in getting bids and working through the actual construction project,” Kuhn said.

Moreover, if each business desires even further improvements, they can access the current PDC Storefront Improvement Program. That program provides up to an additional $32,000 per business for improvements, such as signage, lighting and awnings. “PDC will pay 75 percent, the owner has to pay up to 25 percent,” Kuhn said of the standard Storefront Improvement Program. “But just for this pilot program, that extra $10,000 does not require a match.”

Kuhn, Corkill and PDC staffers will begin talking to businesses along Northeast Halsey Street by early May to find out who is interested, and they hope to select five to seven businesses by the end of May.

Some of the improvements might take only a couple of months to complete, while others may take six to eight months, Kuhn said.
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