Lillian Negron plans to employ a dozen people at Lillian’s Natural Marketplace in Gresham.
OREGON BUSINESS PHOTO
GRESHAM Like most cities around the state, Gresham has been hard hit by the commercial real estate crash. Its downtown core is dotted with vacant storefronts, left behind by businesses that failed or moved out of town. But unlike most cities, Gresham decided one way to bring business back to its downtown was to waive all development-related fees as well as first-year license fees.
“Businesses are having a hard time getting over the hurdle of not being able to borrow,” says local businessman Dwight Unti.
Unti is president of Tokola Properties, the developer of 3rd Central, a mixed-use property at NW Third Street and Miller Avenue. Unti also is co-owner of Lillian’s Natural Marketplace, the first business to take advantage of the fee holiday. The market will open in July in 3rd Central’s ground-floor retail space. Unti estimates the fee waivers saved him $20,000.
“Relief on the front end really matters,” says Unti. “In this economy it has been a demoralizing barrier when you add it to the lack of lending.” When the city reduced the front-end costs, “it was exactly what was needed to make the difference.”
Two other businesses — Bella Cupcake and non-commercial radio station KZME — also have taken advantage of the program and will open at 3rd Central this summer. City officials say an insurance company and an ice cream shop also are interested in the program, which runs through March 31, 2011. Community development director Eric Schmidt estimates about 30-40 businesses could benefit from the program, saving about $150,000 collectively in fees.
The city has long wanted a locally owned grocery downtown so residents don’t have to travel out of town to shop. Market operator and co-owner Lillian Negron says about 12 to 15 full- and part-time jobs will be created at the market. She sees fee relief as crucial to getting small businesses off the ground: “It’s an opportunity to bring your business back to Gresham.”