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New president has big vision for downtown


Woodburn Downtown Association, newly merged with Downtown Unidos, has six-fold plan, says president Anthony Veliz

by: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - A portion of downtown First Street, including the vacant building once occupied by the Pix Theater, is pictured last week.Anthony Veliz, local businessman and newly minted president of the reinvigorated Woodburn Downtown Association, is a “big picture thinker,” he says.

So, when he walks through some of the areas downtown that are still in need of revitalization, he doesn’t just see closed storefronts, broken windows and other less-than-attractive signs of urban decay.

He sees potential.

“I feel like this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Veliz said recently, sitting in the downtown headquarters of his public relations and marketing firm, Izo. “The time has come.”

Veliz grew up on Front Street, right across from Settlemier Park, a fact he’s very proud of. He remembers walking the streets of downtown Woodburn, even meeting his siblings and extended family to catch a Spanish-language movie at the Pix Theater, now defunct.

“Historically, downtown hasn’t been a focus. It wouldn’t have gotten where it is if it had been a focus,” Veliz said. “The state that it’s in now is unacceptable. I think we can do better.”

But, he said, he’s not trying to lay the blame anywhere. He’s more interested in changing the way people think about downtown, moving forward.

“Good enough is not good enough anymore. Bottom line,” he said. “It’s a mindset, and we have to change that mindset. And I’m committed to doing that.”

The Woodburn Downtown Association is a collective of business owners and civic leaders that has been at work in the area in some form for more than 30 years. For part of that time, another group, Woodburn Downtown Unidos, has also been active, primarily representing Latino business owners and organizations.

Veliz said one of the first goals for him and others was to combine those two groups and visions, a merger that was finalized at the association’s March 26 meeting.

“Through conversations with representatives of both groups, people were saying it just doesn’t make sense to have these two separate groups anymore,” he said.

The new association will not be a dues-paying organization; instead it will seek funding through public grants, events and private donations. Veliz said one of the reasons he wasn’t in favor of the group accepting dues was because he wanted it to be able to serve as an advocate for all of downtown, not just members.

He said his group has already identified six large priority areas or projects for the association to focus on: economic development (retain and recruit businesses to the area), transportation (developing a train depot and electric vehicle charging stations), education (capitalize on the investments by Chemeketa and Pacific University, possibly through the formation of an education district), housing (build affordable and quality housing above downtown businesses), cultural center (market and capitalize on Woodburn rich and diverse culture), and finally, recreation (build a community center).

Veliz readily acknowledges that the association’s goals are ambitious, and accomplishing even one of them will be anything but easy.

But he’s optimistic all the same.

“If I had taken no for an answer when my dad and I were out working in the field, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you,” he said. “You have to set goals. It’s the only way to reach your goals.”