Some of the major projects in town have utilized funds from a local government entity perhaps not well known or understood by a majority of Sisters residents: the Urban Renewal Agency (URA) established in 2003.

Projects include the Cascade Avenue improvements, the Village Green restrooms, the creation of Fir Street Park, and small-business improvement grants.

The URA is a legally separate entity from the City of Sisters, with the Sisters City Council serving as its board of directors and being financially accountable for its operations. The URA prepares its own budget in accordance with Oregon law and the board of directors approves its annual appropriations. The current Urban Renewal District covers much of the downtown Sisters commercial core. The Sisters downtown Urban Renewal Agency Plan identifies improvements slated within the district.

The current URA Plan is set to expire in 2023 but the URA can play a significant role in furthering downtown investment and growth. So, this year’s plan (2020-21) will serve as a transition while the board looks to establish a long-term URA strategy.

Increasing downtown investment and growth could manifest in many ways ranging from alleviating constraints and congestion on Highway 20, adding capacity to other essential infrastructure, constructing downtown streetscape and safety improvements, offsetting land and development costs for key, qualified projects, boosting workforce housing, delivering essential downtown amenities, and a variety of other ways.

Moving multiple critical projects forward will take longer than the three years left on the current URA plan. The plan identifies a number of projects to improve sidewalks, streetscapes, buildings, and other physical improvements as specified in the plan. It will also assist property owners in the rehabilitation, development, or redevelopment of their properties.

City staff is currently vetting possible long-term strategies (over a possible 10-year time period) to present to the Council and community partners. Over the next few months Council and staff will be working through that process, resulting in a new expiration date, associated capacity of funds available, and an updated project list.

When an urban renewal district is first created, the assessed value within the district boundaries is established as the “frozen tax base.” If the urban renewal efforts are successful, the value of the district will grow above the frozen base amount. That increase is called the “incremental” or “excess” value. Overlapping jurisdictions (city, county, special districts, bonds, etc.) continue to receive the property tax revenue on the frozen base while the URA receives property tax revenue related to the incremental value. The amount of tax increments a district may collect is affected by the increase in assessed valuation on properties in a district above the frozen base valuation.

According to City Manager and URA Executive Director, Cory Misley, “The Sisters URA is a critical tool towards furthering development within downtown that in a town of our size has implications for all of the Sisters Country community…. [We are looking at] creating a realistic yet ambitious and fresh project list to deliver on. There is a tremendous amount of work ahead if we are to use the URA as it was (and is) intended while addressing the most critical, relevant projects. The alternative of not proceeding proactively may have negative ramification for the long-term livability and growth.”

As the community has shown, there is a healthy desire to strive for new initiatives and projects outlined in the Sisters Country Vision. These projects come with a price. Strategically managing the URA is a key puzzle piece in delivering on community needs and wants over this decade.