News

Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant

Northeast Oregon just received a big boost in funding for projects that have been long underway in Baker, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties.

In La Grande, the Oregon Main Street Revitalization grant program awarded $100,000 to both the Liberty Theatre and Putnam Building projects, totaling $200,000 for the city’s downtown area.

Thursday evening, members of the La Grande City Council, La Grande Main Street Downtown Board and Liberty Theater Foundation Board gathered at the La Grande Main Street Downtown office to celebrate.

“It is a wonderful program where Oregon Main Street lets every local Main Street select a project in town that we decide is a great project for the community,” said Shawn Risteen, La Grande Main Street Downtown Board president. “This year, we have selected the Liberty Theatre and Putnam Building combined…. I think this will be a huge help for getting the process going to where we can get that project opened up a lot quicker.”

Risteen explained while the grant is split in two, the application process was a “joint venture” between the Putnam and the Liberty because the adjacent buildings share sewer and water lines. The total $200,000 will be used for a fire suppression system and restoration of the theater’s facade.

Michael Jaeger, board president of the Liberty Theatre Foundation, said construction on the facade is already underway and the grant from Oregon Main Street is a big step forward.

“This grant will really help us complete (the facade) as well as the fire retarding system in the building,” he said. “This will help immensely take care of something that we didn’t have cash in the bank to pay for.”

According to Jaeger, the theater lost its historical entrance way when it was converted into retail space in 1962. The plan is to restore the facade to its 1930s look and convert the Putnam Building into “a space that would be supportive of the Liberty.”

“They’re both historic buildings and Dale Mammen purchased the Putnam Building for the purpose of refurbishing it back to its original style and grandeur of the day,” Jaeger said.

He continued by describing Mammen’s vision of establishing a restaurant and concessions stand in the Putnam Building so theater-goers can eventually enjoy entertainment and a bite to eat in the same space.

The Liberty Theatre Foundation Board president also credited Mammen for bringing the two buildings to the city’s attention in the first place.

“Dale got us all interested in the theater, so he’s the visionary and the person behind the Liberty Theatre and the Putnam Building,” he said.

Wednesday night, the Urban Renewal Agency, composed of La Grande City Council members, voted to extend the Liberty Theatre project’s deadline from August 20, 2018, to June 1, 2021, but Jaeger said he estimates the theater should be operational sometime in 2020.

“I think we’ll be done before then, but it gives us a little bit of breathing room,” he said.

In the same round as the Liberty Theatre grant, Oregon Main Street awarded funding to 30 projects across the state, adding up to more than $5.4 million. Out of these, Baker, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties received a total of $800,000.

“I was so impressed to see there were four projects just in Union, Baker, Wallowa and Umatilla counties,” Risteen said. “It’s a great program for rural areas especially.”

Contact Amanda Weisbrod at 541-963-3161 or aweisbrod@lagrandeobserver.com