As we look back on this tumultuous and challenging year, we focus on the positive work accomplished serving and supporting our community. Leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, a stronger local economy and invested community partners were forging ahead creating a wealth of new energy downtown. New businesses have opened, remodels and expansions have taken place, and momentum growing. Available space is not easy to come by right now in downtown Chehalis. With the onset of the pandemic, we quickly mobilized and prioritized the needs of local businesses to sustain this energy, while still accomplishing the majority of our projects and activities originally planned. Our volunteer core, strong partnerships, and community support have allowed us to move forward with vigor and determination.
The Chehalis Community Renaissance Team (CCRT) is a non-profit organization offering the opportunity for citizen volunteers to put a permanent positive stamp on the Chehalis community. Much has been accomplished since the Chehalis Renaissance Plan was officially adopted by the Chehalis City Council in May 2009. This multi-year, citywide master plan includes projects and initiatives focused on community building, economic development, quality design, traffic & parking, and downtown development. The CCRT is tasked with accomplishing the goals outlined in the plan through voluntary leadership, broad community participation and using disciplined project management. Specifically, our goals include:
- Making the Chehalis area a more attractive place in which to live and raise a family.
- Enhancing job opportunities and the involvement of youth, so more high school and college graduates choose to live in the area.
- Increasing tourism to support local retailers, hotels, and restaurants.
- Increasing retail business to enhance local shopping.
CCRT is an active participant in Washington State’s Main Street Program. The program is organized under Washington State’s Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation and supports community efforts developing strategies to stimulate long term economic growth and civic pride within downtown communities. This program has provided CCRT a successful approach and structure to carry out projects. Our director serves on the Main Street Advisory Board tasked with leading the development of the program at the state level. Through Main Street we have gained valuable resources for project ideas, insight into relationship building with partners and businesses, forecasts and trends for local economic development, and the ability to participate in Main Street’s B&O tax credit incentive program.
Several of our year-to-date accomplishments and projects in-progress are listed below.
ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING PROJECTS
- A Facade Improvement Grant Program launched early June 2017. Twenty-four grants have now been awarded including eight in 2020. Awards fund 75% of costs up to $2,500 toward projects improving exterior building improvements. The percentage match was increased from 50% to 75% in April due to the increased needs of local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. CCRT’s contribution to these projects represents 21% of the total façade project costs. CCRT has helped leverage over $230,000 in building improvements downtown.
- A digital marketing grant program was launched in April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This grant provides matching funds for the enhancement of downtown business’ online presence to support businesses seeking to gain a stronger online presence. The grants provide a 75% match of project costs up to $2,500 per business. Twelve applications have been received.
- In October, CCRT successfully applied for $50,000 in City of Chehalis CARES Act funds to offer the Chehalis CARES COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program to those businesses impacted by COVID-19. Ten grants were awarded to Chehalis small businesses.
- CCRT is a partner of Lewis County Together with other local economic development partners to support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has awarded $1.1 million in non-profit and small business grants from Lewis County’s allocation of CARES Act funds. In addition, PPE kits have been distributed and www.lewiscountytogether.com offers resources and information including business hours and availability, job openings, daycare listings, and more.
- CCRT led the effort developing the Lewis County Small Business Recovery Toolkit hosted on CCRT’s website. This comprehensive, countywide guide offers information preparing workplaces and employees for work during the pandemic, as well as communicating with customers.
- As a partner with United Way, this December we are launching the Lewis County’s Restaurant & Bar Employee Relief Fund awarding $250 VISA gift cards to workers affected by the pandemic who worked in the Lewis County restaurant and bar industry in 2020.
- With our partner the Port of Chehalis, Chehalis Coworks opened in February 2018. CCRT now manages Chehalis Coworks as a shared workspace for contractors, freelancers, remote workers, travelers, and business professionals. The workspace offers individuals and groups the opportunity to work in a fully-equipped workspace in downtown Chehalis. Monthly memberships are $75/month with 24/7 access to the space. Space can be rented at $20/day and $40/week with daily 8 am-10 pm access. High-speed fiber internet, a kitchen, conference room, outdoor courtyard, coffee and snacks, office supplies, and printer/copier are provided.
- A community Priority Improvement Fund Program is offered to property owners with buildings in the Chehalis City limits that have been recognized as deteriorated, dilapidated, unsafe, and/or obsolete. The goal of the program is to partner with private property owners to clean-up, refurbish or remove blighted structures and signage. Two $2500 matching grants have been awarded and in several other cases, CCRT has successfully encouraged improvement through outreach efforts.
- Due to COVID-19, our Downtown Business Academy is on hold. The program offers monthly classes to local businesses with a mission to facilitate commerce through education. Classes have included Facebook advertising, Instagram for business, merchandising, bookkeeping support, and writing for marketing.
- At the onset of the pandemic in spring, CCRT prioritized the health and well-being of our local businesses. Extensive resource pages were added to our website, and all dining, retail, and service businesses in Chehalis were contacted to promote updated hours and offerings. We send regular e-newsletters to our businesses and offer a Facebook group for local business communication and discussion. Throughout the pandemic, we have been in frequent contact with businesses addressing concerns, questions, problems, and frustrations.
- We have continued to bring color and art into Chehalis with two new large scale mural art projects downtown on the historic Elks building and on Market Street Bakery’s north-facing wall.
- Concluded the painting of over 40 garbage can lids in downtown featuring designs of local wildflowers painted on the lids, along with a historic Chehalis fact.
- Coordinated the annual spring planting of flowers in Downtown Chehalis. We partner each year with Kaija’s Garden & Pet and the City of Chehalis staff for the procurement, planting and care of the flowers.
- Our holiday promotions sub-committee continues to support the holiday displays including the life-sized “gingerbread house” created in 2019 at the corner of 13th and Market Boulevard.
- A Chehalis coloring/activity book is being created and will feature a children’s version of the historic downtown walking guide. Plans are to distribute at the library, area museums, at downtown events, and possibly through Chehalis Parks and Recreation Dept.
- Talented local artists were selected to paint colorful designs on several new municipal grade benches which were installed in Downtown Chehalis by City of Chehalis staff. Nine benches have now been created in total.
- Three additional utility boxes have been painted by our local artists throughout Chehalis. A total of eleven boxes have now been painted with more planned.
- CCRT manages the Experience Chehalis website designed to promote Chehalis. The site has listings for all Chehalis retail shops, restaurants, lodging options, and attractions. It features itineraries, a calendar of events and a blog and is updated continuously to provide current, relevant information. The website also offers Business Resource pages to support local businesses. Website visits are up 179% over last year.
- We continue to promote the Choose Local First campaign to bring awareness to our local businesses, boost our local economy, and foster civic pride. Social media campaigns as well as posters and radio ads support this effort.
- Chehalis promotional cards were created this year featuring a local artist Chehalis image on one side and information on our community of the reverse side. These 5×7 cards were created and distributed in local hotel rooms and throughout Chehalis to engage and educate visitors.
- The Experience Chehalis Facebook page is actively managed with over 15,600 likes and the more recently launched Experience Chehalis Instagram has over 1,000 followers. We actively use our social media to promote our community.
- Produced the Experience Chehalis Brochure for local distribution and through Chehalis Parks & Recreation Department for visiting tournament participants.
- The 9th edition of the 12-page Historic Downtown Chehalis Walking Tour Guide has been reprinted and distributed throughout the community.
- Professional photoshoots throughout Chehalis have provided new material for not only our promotion activities but have been shared with local businesses and organizations for their use.
- ChehalisFest, hosted by CCRT, was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Click here for more information on our projects and programs.