BY ROBIN DOUSSARD
A new 19,000-square-foot indoor development is being built in downtown La Grande that mixes retail, education space and a business incubator all in one venue.
Above: The New Town Square in La Grande will be open sometime in 2013.
Below: The underground level under the New Town Square will house The Marketplace. The project will include space for a business incubator and education and retail shopping.
// Photos courtesy The City of La Grande
“This gives people hope that there is at last someone willing to take a risk and invest in the community,” says Charlie Mitchell, La Grande’s community and economic development director. Al Adelsberger, developer of the New Town Square and The Marketplace, “really has a philanthropic mindset. He went into this project to help Main Street, to help businesses start small and grow.” Mitchell pegs the project at more than $1 million, adding that the city put about $125,000 into it.
The development has 14,000 square feet underground and about another 5,000 square feet at street level. The top level is nearly complete, but there are no occupied spaces yet. Adelsberger doesn’t want to open in phases and says the project will be completed “sometime in 2013.”
Mitchell says downtown La Grande is struggling, and there are efforts under way to revitalize it. “We have more vacancies than we would like. It’s not as healthy as it’s ever been.” He says the town has a similar issue that faces Astoria, where nearby Warrenton is bringing in big-box stores. “We have Island City next door with a Walmart supercenter. Because we are not a quickly growing community, there is only so much [consumer spending] to go around and we end up competing with ourselves, or with our neighbor city.”
The hope is that Adelsberger’s project, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Fourth Street, will keep more retail dollars in La Grande. But once started, the idea expanded beyond retail. “The project has now evolved. The community is engaged and passionate,” Adelsberger says. “This idea could expand to every city across the state. People are struggling with the expense of starting a business. They need support.” He sees the education component of the development as a place to help train students in business. “Eastern Oregon University is just up the street. Students could run a business or be hired” at one of the stores, he says.
In addition to retail and incubator space, there’s a community room, a restaurant and “a good 25 percent of the square footage is for the arts,” including workshop space, exhibition rooms and a fine arts gallery. “That could inspire more tourism,” Adelsberger says. He also is committed to using local labor and goods. “Everything used is 100 percent local,” he notes.
Adelsberger, who is from Los Angeles and has a home in Joseph, says he has been asked several times why he is building this development in La Grande. “I don’t have an answer. There is no logical answer. It makes no economic sense to do this in La Grande. And yet, why not? What we are doing here is so unique and to have it work in La Grande would have a great impact. The marketplace is in such great need.”
Robin Doussard is Editor in Chief of Oregon Business.