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Ashland teams with ODOT on celebration plan

When Ashland City Council gave Scott Fleury the go-ahead to seek out the proper permitting required to zone off parts of East Main Street, Ashland’s interim public works director had only weeks to deliver the goods.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce had big plans in the works, but its Ashland Summer Celebration Series wouldn’t live up to expectations unless the city could find a way to carve out a little more space in front of businesses. To do that, Fleury collaborated with the Oregon Department of Transportation, a necessary step since ODOT has jurisdiction over state highways, and East Main Street is part of Highway 99.

On June 16, Fleury and his staff were directed to secure the permitting necessary to rope off the parallel parking spaces on East Main for pedestrians and, possibly, store displays. Only 13 days later, on June 29, the city had the permit in hand after having become one of the first cities in the state — Grants Pass was the other — to work with ODOT on its new Reopening Communities, Re-envisioning Spaces program.

As planned, the city cordoned off the parking spaces along East Main the morning of Friday, July 10, as part of its preparation for the first weekend of the Summer Celebration Series. That afternoon, most of the businesses wanted their parking spaces back because their new store front, dressed in traffic-cone orange, could easily have been mistaken for a construction zone.

“We had pedestrian barricades that you often see for special events — they’re orange and white, they interlock,” Fleury said. “That’s, from the traffic safety standpoint, what we got approved from ODOT. It’s kind of hard to make anything on the beautification scale with a traffic issue. So they requested that we take them down, so we did take them down that afternoon, but we still left a few up.”

The few zoned-off parking spaces that remain, said Fleury, are the ones in front of NW Raw, Brothers’ Restaurant and Creekside Pizza. Macaroni’s had originally opted to retain the extra space for seating but has since secured a space on The Bricks above the Plaza for the same purpose.

While the Summer Celebration Series has not yet taken root up East Main the way organizers had envisioned, the quick turnaround from planning to executing may yet prove a valuable investment. For that, Fleury declined to take credit, instead pointing to interim City Administrator Adam Hanks, among others.

“It was really the chamber, and Adam and administration over there in City Hall working together to try to figure out some of these details, and I’m just kind of helping facilitate the road stuff and getting all that in place,” Fleury said.

Once the City Council decided to move forward with the chamber’s plan to use as much street space as possible, Fleury contacted ODOT Assistant District Manager Jeremiah Griffin. By that point, Fleury already knew that blocking off the entire street was not an option — doing so for commercial purposes is against Oregon law.

So Fleury asked Griffin what Ashland’s options were, assuming the goal was to provide businesses with as much room as possible. Another option floated around early in the process involved closing off a lane of traffic. That also led nowhere for the same reason, but after taking the matter to the experts in Salem, Griffin came back with a solution, one that is also being used in Grants Pass and may end up being adopted by other cities across the state.

“Well, obviously being that it’s unique times right now, we went to Salem, asked Salem folks and our local staff and others for some unique solutions,” Griffin said. “So we immediately started looking for some guidance on how they could utilize this space.

“So, what’s unique about Ashland and Grants Pass for us in this district is that they both own and maintain the sidewalks, and they have curb to curb jurisdiction. And so that plays a big part in this.”

Griffin said ODOT’s Reopening Communities, Re-envisioning Spaces program was born soon after Oregon’s phased reopening began May 15. At that time, he said, cities and chambers were looking for opportunities to expand outdoor seating. One of the solutions ODOT came up with was to move pedestrian traffic from the sidewalk into parking spaces, opening up sidewalks for possible seating options.

Making the process easier, Griffin said, was the fact that he’s based in Medford and is used to working closely with local cities.

“The great thing is that we live in this community and we work in the community down here, so we have great relationships with our local partners and we know them personally,” Griffin said. “They come to us at the district level, whether it’s here in our district or other districts around the state. Those local relationships matter.”

Griffin said Ashland and Grants Pass were the first cities in the state to apply for the necessary permits and work with ODOT on cordoning off permitted spaces specifically to help give local businesses a much-needed jolt. Now, he expects other cities to follow Ashland’s lead.

“Absolutely,” he said, “I think there are a lot of other communities that are now looking at Ashland and Grants Pass as examples of how it can work and how we can work together.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneDowntown businesses set up in the streets to serve customers on the Plaza.