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Month: July 2011

TOURISM: Worth the investment?

Photo Illustration by KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Anywhere between $30,000 and $500,000 could be used to build a visitors center near Interstate 5 in Keizer.

The move comes as some city leaders see a potential economic boost in not only recruiting events like the recently-concluded Good Vibrations festival, but as an everyday place to stay where travelers can easily drive to nearby destinations.

But can Keizer be a viable tourist hotspot? And is building a visitors center a wise use of public dollars?

The questions come as one process reaches its conclusion and another is just beginning. A city-sponsored task force recommended investing in a festival site near Interstate 5, and the Keizer Urban Renewal Agency will soon decide whether – and how much – urban renewal money should fund a visitors center, also near the interstate.

A quick tour of current offerings offer few indicators that Keizer has the tourist-oriented business community or infrastructure to handle a massive influx of visitors. We have our fair share of bars, but the number of family-friendly establishments serving food that doesn’t come in a bag fall short of the double-digit mark. We’ve got a lake, but it’s private: Signs threaten arrest if you fish there. Our hotel is well-reviewed, but there’s only one. And the city’s Events and Festivals Task Force learned local ordinances prohibit any sort of entertainment in local parks without a permit.

Photo Illustration by KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson

But many leaders, including Mayor Lore Christopher, say Keizer is in a prime location to capitalize on Willamette Valley tourism. Keizer is on one of several routes to the Oregon coast via Highway 22, and is well within day trip range for vineyard tours, skiing, hiking, fishing or soaking in the unique cultures of Portland and Eugene.

The Keizer Iris Festival has seen an attendance spike, and the community just played host to the Good Vibrations motorcycle festival. Later this year Keizer will for the first time host the Festival of Lights parade, which was until its 2010 cancellation a Salem holiday tradition.

The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the city’s historically successful short-season Single-A baseball team, are seeing an attendance surge following the departure of the Portland Beavers, a Triple-A minor league team that left to make way for Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers. The city’s community center, completed in 2009, hosts its fair share of trade shows and conventions. While not without infrastructure shortcomings, Keizer Rapids Park boasts a popular amphitheater and dog park. By this time next year a boat ramp could be close to completion.

Two of Oregon’s most-visited destinations – Spirit Mountain Casino and Woodburn Company Stores – are less than an hour away.

And there’s the freeway that provides a relatively traffic-free path to the city and gives the exposure some think our community is poised to capitalize upon.

“We’re a destination – they just don’t know it yet,” Christopher told the July luncheon of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, which also provides visitor services to the city, is the leading candidate to run a tourism center, but the mayor has said other groups could have a shot at the task. The chamber is already planning a move to Keizer Station in an already-built space; that could become their permanent home, or they might build a joint-facility with Salem-Keizer Transit. The area’s bus operators are planning a transit hub at Keizer Station.

“We feel like the Exit 260 interchange is a viable place to offer visitor services,” said Christine Dieker, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce.

Capitalizing on a city-owned five-acre site near the freeway and Volcanoes Stadium topped the Events and Festivals Task Force’s list of recommendations.

“Because of parking and access issues it may not be a good stand-alone, but the location and visibility from Interstate 5 is unparalleled,” said City Councilor Cathy Clark, who chaired the task force. “We want to see if we can at least use that land for more than we’re using it for now, which is nothing.”

A Keizer-style welcoming

To remain in leased space at Keizer Station, some $30,000 to $40,000 in urban renewal dollars could help build out amenities like public restrooms and kiosks advertising area attractions, Dieker said. City leaders acknowledge this number would likely multiply several times over if such a facility was built new, combined with the planned bus station.

The urban renewal amendment proposed for a vote August 1 would allow spending up to $500,000 on the visitors center.

The chamber also is planning a private capital campaign to finance the facility; the group will have to make do without some $11,000 in hotel-motel taxes, which the Keizer City Council opted to keep in order to avoid further general fund cuts.

A key argument for Keizer promoting itself: No one else seems to be doing it. Dieker said Portland-oriented tourism sites don’t even mention Highway 22 as a beach route, instead steering visitors northwest on Highway 26 to Cannon Beach or through Newberg to Lincoln City, bypassing the Salem-Keizer area altogether.

“We hope to bring a little more presence to the area,” Dieker said.

Erick Peterson, a chamber board member, envisions such a facility as hosting everything from pamphlets to athletic tournament signups, wine tastings and more.

“We plan to design this facility … so you can make the most of it,” Peterson told chamber members at the organization’s July luncheon.

Getting the word out

The proposed visitors center has been likened to a funnel; i.e. visitors traveling the Interstate 5 corridor could spot the sign, drop in and see what else Keizer and the surrounding area has to offer.

City Manager Chris Eppley told the Keizertimes he believes the idea has potential.

“Anything the community can do to promote itself,” Eppley said. “I think it is clearly sort of a quintessential urban renewal type project for the things urban renewal was meant to do, which is position the community in such a way to promote itself and improve.”

Dan Cormany, a visiting professor at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said it wasn’t at all unusual for a city Keizer’s size to promote itself as a destination.

“There are convention and visitors bureaus serving areas of only 10,000 or 15,000,” Cormany said.

But recognizing much of vacation planning happens online, Clark said having a viable and consistent online community calendar was a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The goal is that “no events go unnoticed,” Clark said, “We’ve got to capitalize on what we have… We already have events and visitors coming here; we already have assets. What are we doing with what we have?”

Clark sees the calendar as a “two-way communication tool” for both the public to see what’s coming up, and for businesses to market to upcoming events. The Keizer Chamber of Commerce has recently introduced a community calendar on its Keizerchamber.com website.

Will it work?

One aspect not yet mentioned is how our leaders and the public can track return on public investment.

Cormany said hotel reports would be the most reliable indicator – both tax receipts and the actual number of room nights booked.

“Usually the (destination marketing organization) has a targeted number of room nights they’re trying to be responsible for,” Cormany said. “Their success rate would be based in part on how many room nights they generate that weren’t otherwise generated.

“Particularly for leisure tourists, it’s difficult otherwise to get a read on whether, for example, restaurant or retail business is from tourists or from locals,” Cormany added. “The definition of a tourist is someone who spends a night away from home; the hotel reports give us the best indication.”

When it comes to festivals and other events, Cormany said computerized models exist to show tourism promoters how much visitors spent on food and drink, ticket sales and more.

“You’re also getting into determining how much money stays in the community and how much goes out with the sponsor of the event or the vendors of the event,” Cormany said.

He said the “close to” has worked elsewhere, citing Lancaster, California’s tourism efforts. That Mojave Desert city, while significantly bigger than Keizer at more than 156,000 residents, has taken a similar angle. It’s about 80 minutes north of Los Angeles.

Cormany described two possible paths to success with the “close to” strategy: The destination must be uniquely situated in close proximity to other attractions or be a low-price leader among its competitors. Unique transportation options like trains can be a draw, he added.

And while hotels and restaurants offering breakfast and dinner – particularly those with long hours – can see more customers using this strategy, retail stores don’t generally see much impact, Cormany said.

Potential pitfalls include the possibility a potential visitor would choose to focus on one area; say, staying in the mountains or at the beach as opposed to driving to both, he said. Another is that it can be hard to recruit return visitors, as they may find they like one of the nearby destinations so appealing they stay there next time instead.

“The remedy for this is to use the exposure they have to your city to enchant and appeal to them on your own terms, so they view your city as a ‘hidden discovery’ to which they want to return to specifically,” he said.

Marketing starts at home

Tourism boosters will have to figure out how to market one more destination in a stubbornly sluggish economy. And if Keizertimes Facebook fans’ comments are any indication, the hometown crowd still needs convincing.

“Whether we like it or not, Keizer is what it will always be – a bedroom community to Salem,” said Tamra Burleson. “Let’s focus on making that bedroom a convenient place of rest, relaxation and renewal for those of us that live here.”

Shelly King described Keizer as a “gateway.”

“It’s like my relative’s house on the way to Disneyland, with the comfy living room and wonderful hospitality,” she said.

Dennis Koho, a former mayor and chamber president who owns a law firm on River Road, is skeptical.

“It is a good place to live, and we enjoy living in a city that is so close to many tourism destinations,” Koho said. “(But) how many people do you know have said, ‘I think we’ll vacation in Long Beach (Calif.) this year because it is just an hour or two from Disneyland? People simply don’t do that.”

City, developer respond to appeal

Reporter’s Notebook is a new feature in the Keizertimes. Here our writers and editors will offer a glimpse behind the headlines to stories and issues bubbling just below the surface.

Attorneys opposing Keep Keizer Livable’s appeal of a possible Walmart store say the city has no obligation to require that adjoining mixed use buildings be completed before the discount grocer opens its doors.

The response was filed jointly by the City of Keizer and E-Village LLC, the development firm proposing the big box grocer along with medical offices and a mixed use retail and office building. The appeal was filed to the Land Use Board of Appeals in June by Keep Keizer Livable, a neighborhood group opposing the project.

The appeal, penned by attorney Ken Helm, states the city failed to guarantee required accompanying mixed use buildings would actually get built. When the Keizer City Council opted to change its development code to allow retail stores larger than 10,000 square feet it set size limits that would trigger requirements that the developer build mixed use structures around the large retail store.

In the responding brief, attorneys Zachary Dablow of Salem and Shannon Johnson of the city of Keizer assert merely starting construction satisfies Keizer’s code.

“Under Keizer’s interpretation of the code, once both components of the development have concurrently begun construction, they are deemed to have been constructed concurrently and satisfy (Keizer Development Code) regardless of the length of time to finish the construction,” the filing reads. The only obligation the city has is to make sure construction on the other buildings has begun before the larger store opens, they wrote.

The two attorneys say existing case law and statutes permit the city to interpret its own code.

You can see the whole legal filing below.

– Jason Cox


Citizens, it’s your turn

The city of Keizer is to be commended for reaching out and listening to citizens. The next in a series of Town Hall meetings will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 30 at the civic center.

The city has done its part by holding the meetings; the public should now fulfill its roles: attend and ask questions they have.

Some may think that a summer Saturday morning is not a great time for a Town Hall meeting.  Democracy and government go on regardless of the calendar or the weather.  The city has committed to holding Town Hall meetings monthly.

Though towns in our part of the country don’t have a tradition of  Town Hall meetings, it is a viable way for citizens to step up to the microphone and state what’s on their minds.  We would hope that households throughout Keizer see this as an opportunity to informally discuss issues with the city.

The Town Halls held earlier this year, which was well attended, was  focused on public safety and funding, especially regarding 911 service.  The topic of the two following meetings also were on public safety; the last open mic meeting was sparsely attended.

Some people may not attend a meeting that has no main topic, but that would be a mistake.  The topics discussed will be what the people what to talk about.  And there are certainly enough issues that citizens can bring up and ask questions about.

Some issues and questions attendees on Saturday can address could include:

• Will the citizens have an opportunity to vote this November on additional funding for 911 service?  If so, what will be on the ballot?  An added fee on water bills?  A surcharge on cell phones?

• What effect would a proposal annexation of Clear Lake by Keizer Fire District have on the rest of the city?

• Is a tourist center the best use of up to $500,000 in urban renewal funds?

• Would the city allow the library to move into the civic center?

• How would any expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary affect homeowners in the rest of Keizer?

• What is the city going to do about the coyote problem in the Gubser neighborhood?

• When will certain neighborhoods have sidewalks?

There are lots of questions to ask and issues to be raised.  The city may not have immediate answers, or their answers may not be the ones some individuals want to hear.

The city and the members of the city council do what they think is in the best interests of Keizer.  Sometimes those decisions are not on the political radar until its on the council’s agenda.  Town Hall meetings are a barometer of what the people think; the city and the council should take seriously what is said and what is asked.

Citizens should attend the Town Hall meeting; it is democracy at its grass roots best.  If some have a phobia about speaking in public, they should go with others—friends, neighbors, friends; there’s safety in numbers.

Citizens should also remember that there are no dumb questions.  The only dumb questions are those that are not asked.

Like they say, it never hurts to ask, even if the answer’s not what you want.

-—LAZ

Dog park can be a visitor draw

By JEANNE BOND-ESSER

I read Lyndon Zaitz’s’ editorial, “Welcome to Keizer” (Keizertimes, July 8) the evening we returned from a dog event in Abbotsford, B.C.

It stated, in part, “Aside from the various events and festivals here in town, there are very few reasons for tourists to make Keizer their destination. We can offer a dog park but it is doubtful that an interstate traveler will drive five miles out of their way just to walk their dog when it can just as easily be done at a rest stop. And of course there is the fact that travelers along the freeway have no way to know the dog park is there. The dog park is a lovely amenity for local residents, but not so much as a tourist draw.”

It got me thinking that while the dog park is not a tourist draw now, it doesn’t necessarily have to stay that way.

“No way to know the dog park is here.” True enough now.  But on our way back from British Columbia, we noticed an “official” blue highway tourism sign along I-5 in Washington: Off-leash dog park. Why can’t there be similar ones at the Keizer exits?

“Doubtful that an Interstate traveler will drive five miles out of their way.” Ah, Lyndon Zaitz, you obviously haven’t ridden hundreds of miles with a working retriever used to running! We know where the fenced off-leash dog parks are from Astoria, Oregon to Laramie, Wyoming to Parker, Arizona, and plan our routes accordingly. Believe me, a brief walk on a leash at a rest stop or campsite doesn’t do the trick after a week or two in an RV with an active dog!

In addition, for a stranger in town, there is a social dynamic at a dog park that is hard to find anywhere else. Over the past decades we have stopped at hundreds of little towns—mostly at the outskirts or interchanges—where our only contact with locals was with the fellow pumping gas. Or, in other states, with no one at all since you insert your credit card and pump your own. But not at towns with dog parks. For instance, last fall we were heading for Greeley, Colorado with no intention of stopping at Laramie. We stopped at the visitor center on the freeway for a “leashed stop” and found out about an off-leash fenced dog park nearby. There we were greeted warmly by locals, got a tip on the nearby RV facility that serves homemade BBQ, learned about the territorial prison museum, etc. We stayed an extra day and arranged our schedule to stay there on the way back home. While we were there, we visited the museum, bought gas and a few groceries (and homemade BBQ!), made a stop at the local vet, and found a gift shop I couldn’t resist.

How many travelers pass by the Keizer exit with a dog? A lot! According to publisher Chuck Woodbury, the surveys done by RVtravel.com show that about half of RVers travel with dogs. Add to that the dozens of AKC and UKC dog events held along the I-5 corridor from spring through fall in Oregon and Washington, and you have a large market of travelers and the potential to pull them off the freeway and right through the River Road business district. And anyone who has been to the Keizer Rapids Dog Park knows well the warm welcome the “regulars” will give any visitors to our friendly town.

So, it seems like it starts with a sign on the freeway. Maybe the Chamber would know how to start the ball rolling?

Jeanne Bond-Esser lives in Keizer.

Fighting to protect new financial bureau

By ROLAND S. MARTIN

While President Barack Obama battles with Republicans and Democrats over raising the debt ceiling, Americans should be preparing themselves to take on the special interests and the members of Congress who carry their water in their effort to scuttle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Republicans already won phase one of their flat-out opposition to the CFPB by forcing the White House not to appoint Elizabeth Warren as the head of the agency. She came up with the idea for the bureau and was a natural to lead it. But the GOP, as well as a number of Democrats close to Wall Street, saw her as the devil incarnate and made clear that any effort to put her in the job would face stiff resistance.

I’ve interviewed her several times.  She’s the kind of official we need in Washington, someone who cares more about what is right than she does pleasing the folks with deep pockets.

The CFPB is all about simplifying the dizzying policies related to mortgages, investigating credit scoring and keeping an eye on the financial institutions that led the way in the near collapse of our economic system.

These fat cats, along with the congressional mouthpieces they liberally ply with campaign cash, don’t want to see the paperwork reduced, aren’t really happy with total transparency in financial dealings and surely aren’t excited about federal inspectors looking over their shoulder. So they have gotten their champions in the House and Senate—mostly Republican but also a few Democrats—to assert that the bureau will kill jobs, is too independent and should be watered down.

For years, they have ripped off customers, and now they don’t want an agency to hold them accountable. We’ve seen and heard the stories of customers getting hit with ballooning interest rates, of exorbitant payday lender fees and of hidden fees on credit cards. This agency is all about the consumer, not the rip-off artists who look to fatten their coffers and boost their quarterly stock prices.

But the law says that without a confirmed director, the agency can’t regulate the non-bank financial institutions like payday lenders.

Even before Warren was passed over, 44 GOP senators signed a letter saying they would oppose any nominee unless the bureau is changed. I haven’t heard one logical reason for their request. It sounds as if the banking lobby wrote the letter and accompanying talking points.

For instance, they don’t want a single director. Instead, they want a bipartisan commission made up of five members. We know how that would end up. One party would appoint its members, and the other wouldn’t, and the commission wouldn’t be able to get any work done.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been signed into law, but the financial industry protectors in Congress don’t want to see it go into effect. Like typical politicians, they want to destroy what’s designed to help average Americans before it even gets off the ground.

Folks, this is where you come in. You need to raise your voice and tell Congress to get its hands off the one good thing to come out of the colossal collapse of our economy. The financial institutions in this country have raped consumers for years. They have stuck us with outlandish fees and, when busted, said they were sorry, but only after banking billions.

No more. Not now. Not today. If your Democratic or Republican representatives are backing a repeal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, then they stand with the banks and not you. Or your college student. Or your senior citizen parents. Tell them that if they don’t side with the consumers on this one, they will need to find new jobs after the next election.

As Americans, we’ve got to stop believing we have no power. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is about making sure the financial institutions are forced to do right.

Yes, they have tons of money and lobbyists. But we must be willing to organize ourselves to do battle with these financial leeches. Our collective voice can defeat them.

We must take this attitude expressed by Vertner Woodson Tandy — one of the founders of my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha — when addressing an issue:

“We must fight till hell freezes over and then fight on the ice.”

Creators Syndicate

Firefighters serve honorably

To the Editor:

I read with great interest the article about the Clear Lake firefighters and how dedicated they are to the Clear Lake community.  I could not agree more.  I have had the pleasure of working with the Clear Lake firefighters for over 15 years and hold their dedication to their community in high regard.

As a member of Keizer Fire District I want to make it clear to both the members of the Clear Lake Fire Station and citizens of Keizer that this dedication to community is in no way threatened by a move to withdraw the Clear Lake Fire Station from Marion County Fire District #1 and move it to the Keizer Fire District.

I have personally had meetings with the Captain of the Clear Lake Fire Station on behalf of Keizer Fire District to ensure them that there would be no change in operations at the Clear Lake Station.  All of the firefighters are welcome to continue serving their community, the resident sleeper program will remain and all of the great community events they perform would continue.

The citizens of Keizer should know that both the firefighters of the Clear Lake Station and Keizer Fire District continue to work hand in hand to ensure the highest level of skill in emergency services.  At the street level the firefighters continue their professional relationship and have a true enjoyment working together.

Brian Butler, Captain
Keizer Fire District

Alma Rose Sampson

Ms. Sampson, of Keizer, died Wednesday, July 13, 2011. She was 89.

Born March 23, 1922 in Huron, S.D. to Jacob and Anna Waldner, she married Howard E. Sampson on Nov. 10, 1941 in Huron, and they moved to Salem in 1942.

Ms. Sampson worked as a courtesy clerk for Payless Dry Cleaners for many years, was a member of Keizer Elks Lodge No. 2472, and joined John Knox Presbyterian Church in Keizer in 2007. She was a Faith Lutheran Church member for many years.

She was preceded in death by her husband. Survivors include: two daughters, Pat Johnson and Sally (Lee) Hall of Keizer; sister, Elsia Valleau, and brother, Harry Waldner, also of Keizer; and four grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 30, at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Keizer. Interment will be with her husband at Willamette National Cemetery. Arrangements by Keizer Funeral Chapel.

Duane Leroy Doyle

Duane died at his home on July 21st, under the care of Willamette Valley Hospice.  He was preceded in death by his parents Alfred and Lena Doyle and by his brother Larry.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years Susan (Sue), his daughters Melinda Bailey (Mike), Robin Helt (Brad), 5 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren, and his brother Lloyd.  He is also survived by his BFF, a nine year old Sheltie named Bonney.

At his request, no services will be held.  The family suggests donations to Marion County Dog Control, where Duane lovingly volunteered.

Arrangements by Virgil T. Golden Funeral Serviceis.

Keizerites likely to vote on Clear Lake annexation

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Voters may decide whether the City of Keizer and the Keizer Fire District will annex several north Keizer neighborhoods after all.

Wednesday evening, the Keizer Fire Board approved an agreement with the Keizer City Council that sets the stage for the annexing Clear Lake neighborhood into the Keizer Fire District coverage area.

The agreement states that the city of Keizer will withdraw the Clear Lake neighborhood from Marion County Fire District No. 1 and annex it, and the Keizer Fire District will assume fire service coverage for the area.

City councilors are expected to discuss the issue at their meeting Monday, Aug. 1. District officials are hoping for a quick approval that will allow them to put the issue before Keizer voters in November.

The decision is a reversal of the fire district’s original strategy to avoid the ballot box, but Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan said the change of plans is more about allaying any doubts about what is best for Keizer than concerns over their original tactics.

“A vote brings the process up to the gold standard of the will of the people,” Cowan said.

It is also expected to provide more bulletproof protection against appeals expected by MCFD1 throughout the process. Keizer Fire District will assume the costs of placing the annexation measure on the ballot. The Keizer City Council needs to approve the agreement by Aug. 8 to ensure there’s time to get the measure on the ballot. Failing to meet that deadline would push the annexation vote to March 2012.

KFD officials are hoping for expediency on the part of the council after a letter circulated in the Clear Lake neighborhood by the MCFD1 Fire Board. In the letter, Board President Randy Franke states that the district plans to issue the second half of a $10 million bond, approved by MCFD voters, in the next 90 days. MCFD1 has already issued $5 million in bonds, and hope to issue the second $5 million.

By confirming the agreement before MCFD1 issues the bonds, it would absolve Clear Lake residents from liability for the unissued bonds even though the annexation vote would not take place for several months, said Bob Blackmore, an attorney for Keizer Fire District.

“If the city takes action by ordinance, we believe the residents will not be responsible for the new bonds issued,” Blackmore said.

Because the process of withdrawal and annexation has not been executed before in Oregon, there remains some question as to how courts would decide the issue if it reaches that point in the appeal process. If Clear Lake residents are able to dodge liability for the new bonds, they would pay $2.06 per $1,000 of assessed value under Keizer Fire District protection, down from the current rate of $2.42 residents pay under MCFD1.

While KFD and city officials have often repeated the mantra, “Let Keizer be Keizer,” the issue is one of survivability for KFD, Cowan said.

“Annexing Clear Lake neighborhood lays the groundwork for how we will grow with the city in the future,” he said.

Open mic town hall is Saturday

KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

Keizer is hosting an open microphone town hall at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 30, at the Keizer Civic Center.

The event gives residents a chance to ask questions of city councilors or provide comments on any issues they’d like to discuss. Additional comments or questions about future police funding are also welcome.