The Real Story is a Column by Dirk Knudsen. It contains information and opinions. It asks questions and, when available, provides answers. It is your option to read or not to read! But be prepared to be informed.
The year 2023 is well underway, and in Downtown Hillsboro, we all are reassessing the year behind us and reflecting on all that has happened. The Weil’s Building fire on January 2nd, 2022, not only destroyed that historical building and killed Ronnie Knapp, but it crippled our downtown for many months.
The fire closed the block for weeks and displaced at least a dozen businesses. The economic hardships those flames caused those businesses have been real on every level; I have witnessed it firsthand because my offices are as close to the fire as anyone was. Despite little to no financial help from anyone, those damaged and displaced have soldiered on. Some have left Main Street and will never return. Others, sadly, are about to close forever. That is all a direct result of what happened- one human sick and out of their mind danced in the streets that night and watched a building burn, and the damage they did crushed dreams, wiped out businesses and lives, and sent a shock wave through Downtown.
The response to this tragedy came from individuals who donated what they could. Despite personal pleas for help and economic assistance, I can find no evidence that the City of Hillsboro, as a formal entity, was able to offer any direct financial help. I believe that to be an accurate statement, which is such a sad thing. It is the business owners and building owners who have hung on and dug in who are directly responsible for the fact that there is life returning to downtown.
The festivals and events that went on last year helped get people into the businesses on and off throughout the year. The work of organizations like Tuesday Night Marketplace, Hillsboro Downtown Partnership, Hillsboro Farmers Market, and others has been crucial and important, and we recognize them for the hard work they have done- without it, more businesses would have failed.
As this year moves ahead, we will see music and performing arts flourish as HART Theatre, Bag and Baggage Productions and The Vault, Influence Music Hall, The Venetian, Collective Market, D’Anu Wine Bar, Sequoia Art Gallery, the Walters Performing Arts Center, The Odd Fellows Hall, the Knights of Pythias, and the City of Hillsboro Civic Center, bring us a wide variety of weekly offerings. All of these groups and more will continue to do the work to grow the cultural and performing arts in downtown Hillsboro. In many ways, the core of Hillsboro has become the playground of the people of Hillsboro and the Tualatin Valley. That is a great thing for those with real estate interests, businesses, and the general public of our fine town.
2023 should be the comeback year with construction everywhere, and the completion of the much anticipated US Bank redevelopment, now being marketed as Main Street Commons, will be a catalyst too. The Portland developer doing the project will complete an incredible rooftop deck served by an elevator where food, beverage, and music will be flowing by July, I am told. Sizzle Pie Pizza, Grand Central Bakery, Ex-Novo Brew Pub, and The Sudra will move into the new version of the old building and change downtown forever as we enter an era of more well-known brands joining the party. A new food cart pod will be coming downtown too. This year should culminate with a raucous Holly Days event. This is the vision and the hopes many have for 2023, including me.
Pause and contemplate all of that…
None of that will feel complete without the return of Hillsboro’s oldest business and the heart of downtown. In my opinion, and I do not believe I am the only one who shares this view, we will not be back until the Hillsboro Pharmacy returns to Main Street.
I could write volumes about why that is, but I will not. First opened in 1873 by Dr. Francis Alonzo Bailey, the Hillsboro Pharmacy and the people who have run it, are at the Heart of downtown Hillsboro. They were burned out of their space at 243 East Main Street next to the Weil’s Building when the fire happened. Within a few weeks, they reopened a couple of hundred feet away on 2nd Avenue.
Getting them back to Main Street and reopening with the classic soda fountain that has served everyone for many decades is a matter of time and money. But it is happening. Builder owner Bob Herb, a Hillsboro legend to many, is doing his best to get permits handled for a new roof, walls, heat, pipes, floors, fixtures, and more. It has taken months, and finally, a new roof structure is going on, and repairs to the West brick wall are happening. So a year after the fire, the light at the end of the tunnel is glowing. Only through Bob’s personal and serious financial commitment is that even possible. He could have sold his building with the two prime commercial spaces he has and moved on with his life. That could have led to a possible teardown and a modern multi-story glass palace going up, as the site is zoned for that. But Bob is Community first- a fine gentleman indeed and is determined to get the building back in shape and the Pharmacy back. He is one of my local heroes, and I deeply admire him for this and his decades of service in every facet of Hillsboro life as a longtime owner of Hill Florist and a civic leader across the board. Bob, Thank you from so many of us!
Generations of Hillsboroites are missing the pharmacy on Main. Prescriptions are still filled at the 2nd Ave location, but the total experience of the historical setting with whirring 1950s shake machines, the soda fountain, the cooktop serving breakfast and lunch, and the witty banter and wide smiles of the staff are what is missing. Hillsboro news, issues, and matters of great importance are dished up and solved over coffee inside this modern-day time machine. When they come back, we will let out a collective sigh of relief, and I think that is when so many people will feel at ease over what has happened. That is when the heart of downtown Hillsboro will beat again in the strongest possible way -the way it should.
I spoke to Bob and the pharmacy staff. A July – August date for the return was a good goal. Now a year-end return seems more likely. They are all so anxious to come back and get things cooking again. We will all be patient.
Let me be clear; downtown is full of amazing businesses and people who make it all such an interesting and attractive place for people to be. All of them make the heartbeat and are part of it. The Pharmacy, once back on Main, will bring us back to full strength.
I love our City so much, I am sure most of you do too. So If I have high expectations of how it should run is comes from a place of love. If I ask tough questions about the way it is run it comes from a place of concern and the ultimate obligation I feel that there must be fairness and equity in all of the things we do, especially when it comes to spending our tax payer and citizens money. I demand transparency because without it we have room for abuse and inequity. There is not a person in City Hall that I do not respect or care about. Any tough questions I ask or statements I make are not aimed at anyone person. But in the end everyone who does not prescribe to the tenants of a fair and equitable City and the consistent management and acheivement of those goals must be questioned and put under review.
Because this is an opinion column, let me give mine clearly on the matter of the financial side of this. On January 18th, 2022, I attended City Council and begged them to come up with a fund to assist businesses and building owners. We as a city had/have millions in ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act Money), and some could have been used to help rebuild downtown. That has not happened. I asked them to make available grant and low-interest loans to help- all are possible through the Hillsboro Downtown Urban Renewal District. That has not happened.
Contrast that with the January 2022 decision by our Council to give a Portland developer over $1 Million dollars of grant money from the Urban Renewal funds to stimulate new business downtown. Or what about the Jan. 2022 decision to gift a $10 Million dollar grant and a $20 Million Dollar loan to the Hillsboro Hops? While these are worthy ventures, they do not deserve money like that if we offer nothing to people like Bob. The message this sends, fair or not, to anyone paying attention or in need is that new businesses are valued and old ones are not. New building owners with much higher rents are favored over old ones who are trying to maintain a fair offering to long-term businesses. I want all of us and all building owners to have access to the same pot of money. It is only fair and equitable, and it should never appear unfair.
If I had not gone and begged, I would not have had this strong opinion. But I did; I was heard, and the message was rejected without further discussion. You can see that here.
When I write things like this, I get pushback and things said about me and against me, and it hurts me at City Hall in my real estate and other pursuits. But a good journalist, which I aspire to be, does not hold back when something is wrong. Knowing where there is an injustice, inequity, or clear poor policy is one thing. Speaking about it is something I can and must do. Downtown Hillsboro deserves more attention, and the financial mechanism to help is there and ready to use- $90 Million Dollars of money is available through the Urban Renewal money for our Downtown.
The City Council makes up the HEDC (Hillsboro Economic Development Council), and they have the power to tap the Hillsboro Urban Renewal District Funds.
Here is a quote from the HEDC Resolution that gave the Portland developer his $1,155,000 gift for the US Bank redevelopment:
WHEREAS, the Plan consists of goals and objectives to achieve economic , physical, and civic revitalization of the Downtown area; and WHEREAS, the plan Plan, anticipates the funding and delivery of….technical and financial assistance for commercial improvements,..NOW, THEREFORE, THE HILLSBORO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL RESOLVES AS FOLLOWs: THE HEDC Board hereby approves the contribution of up to $1,155,000 in tax increment financing to fund certain elements of the 210 East Main Street rehabilitation.” Resolution NO. 79-22
We need a city that sees that burned buildings and businesses are just as much in need of help and investment then old ones that have the promise of bringing in new tenants and businesses. Heck, we need to offer all of the building owners in our Downtown Urban Renewal Area meaningful money to rehab and remodel and reimagine their spaces. Yes, the City offers up to $40,000 in storefront restoration to all building owners who qualify and put in matching funds. But that is not much money anymore. So we missed the boat so far. I want to encourage our very fine people on City Council, who are a great bunch, to open up the possibilities and get serious about using what we have to make things happen. People like Bob and others could have really used the help. And we need to do more for those who have brought us this far as a community and recognize longevity for what it is, a truly honorable and great thing.
Now – here in pictorial form is a look back at the Hillsboro Pharmacy that was and to hope for the heartbeat to return as soon as possible.