Sarah Lu Heath, the executive director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, has been named the Main Street Manager of the Year by Oregon Main Street, among other revitalization honors for Astoria and Warrenton.
The downtown support agency, part of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, recently held its Excellence in Downtown Revitalization awards in Tillamook.
“This is just a job that takes a lot of time and effort and persistence, so this is very flattering and kind,” Heath said.
Heath joined the downtown association three years ago after being director of development for Restore Oregon, a statewide nonprofit focused on preservation. When she was contemplating the move to Astoria, Heath said, she was told by local historic preservationists John Goodenberger and Lucien Swerdloff to focus on the former Waldorf Hotel, also known as the Merwyn, and the Riviera Building, which houses the Columbian Theater and Voodoo Room bar.
Heath’s biggest accomplishment to date is helping attract Innovative Housing Inc. to buy the Waldorf Hotel building and develop 40 units of workforce housing. She has helped write numerous grants for facade improvements at the Riviera Building, the former J.C. Penney store, the Abeco Building and a mural in the 13th Street Alley. More recently, she helped the owners of the Odd Fellows Building enter a nationwide historic preservation grant competition.
The downtown association is now looking at a more sustainable funding source for staffing and expanding lighting and other features downtown, she said.
Warrenton, which has over the past couple of years emphasized downtown revitalization, took home the One to Watch award .
The city recently started a farmers market at the Warrenton Marina, moved its library downtown, cleaned up more than 10 nuisance properties and had three properties participate in a facade improvement program. Big River Construction recently started on a city contract to add planters, flowers and other landscaping along Main Avenue. The city has also pushed increased participation in local events for the Fourth of July, a Halloween Fall Harvest Festival and a car-free Sunday Streets event happening next year.
“It’s been an incredible ride over this last year,” said Kevin Cronin, the community development director in Warrenton.
The award is a confirmation of the city’s efforts, he said, along with a Reser Family Foundation Grant that will provide $40,000 over four years to Spruce Up Warrenton, a downtown revitalization group.
The next steps are filling in vacant storefronts downtown, such as the brown Fenton Grocery Building at the corner of Main Avenue and First Street, Cronin said. He hopes to attract a craft brewery to the building, where owner Russell Maize is planning to renovate the upstairs apartments.
Marcus and Michelle Liotta, owners of the M&N Building, won an award for Best Historic Preservation Project. The couple purchased the building in 2016, stabilized the foundation with earth anchors and have gone about restoring and filling it with new tenants. Their efforts were one of 12 projects awarded the 2019 DeMuro Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation, the state’s highest honor for the preservation, reuse and revitalization of architectural and cultural sites.
“The award winners serve as inspiration to communities across our network and reflect some of the highest level of revitalization success,” Sheri Stuart, state coordinator of Oregon Main Street, said in a news release. “We are so inspired to see how our historic downtowns across Oregon are coming to life through the creativity, passion and plain hard work of community members.”