Writing a New Chapter for Chiloquin
With collaboration and a strong foundation, the community of Chiloquin in southern Oregon is picking up speed on their journey to revitalization. From renovating historic buildings in the downtown core to redeveloping the Chiloquin Elementary schoolyard, great things are happening in this town with a population of just under 800.
Chiloquin has been hit hard by a series of social and economic events over the last 100 years, resulting in an economic downturn for the once-thriving town. A lack of services now means residents need to travel for essentials such as banking and shopping. But recent efforts by dedicated residents to restore vibrancy in the area have been the catalyst for community-wide revitalization projects.
Historic Renovations Catalyze Revitalization
One such project is on the core block of Chiloquin’s historic downtown, where renovation of the HIRVI Building is underway. Formerly a vibrant business hub in the center of town, this building is the largest and most visible remaining pre-WWII historic era commercial structure in the downtown core.
Early in 2022, a local nonprofit, Chiloquin Visions in Progress, was awarded $200,000 for a Main Street Revitalization Project to renovate the exterior of the HIRVI Building. Created by shared interest in restoring this historic building, a collaboration formed between Chiloquin Visions in Progress, Chiloquin Community Builders, the City of Chiloquin, and building owner, Hannah Levine. Once renovated, the HIRVI Building will have up to four retail and six office spaces available for lease. There are currently seven businesses in the downtown core, including a laundromat, hardware store, food market, art gallery, and a nonprofit community center. The HIRVI Building project is inspiring other building restorations, and as more spaces become available, businesses in Chiloquin have the potential to double in the next 18–24 months.
Collaborations Spur Momentum
This momentum can be attributed to a variety of factors, including a strong foundation of planning and collaborative efforts between community members, business owners, investors, and community organizers. Over the past 19 years, Chiloquin has created seven economic development, revitalization, and planning studies, with the most recent being the 2021 City of Chiloquin Strategic Plan.
One recent collaborative project of note is the redevelopment of the schoolyard at Chiloquin Elementary. With a combination of a common vision and support from a large number of community groups—the Klamath Tribes, Trust for Public Lands, City of Chiloquin, Klamath County School Board, Chiloquin Visions in Progress, and The Ford Family Foundation—and residents, teachers, and students, the redesigned schoolyard includes a new outdoor space with a playground area, basketball court, interpretative walking paths, and community garden spaces. The community’s goal with this project was to transform the elementary schoolyard into a vibrant space representative of the people, place, and culture of Chiloquin, and this vision is proving successful.
Successes & Challenges
Along with these successes, a challenge for Chiloquin has been obtaining funding and coordinating efforts. Organizing and funding the revitalization initiatives has been complicated, with the need to get many “slippery ducks in a row” simultaneously, but with people stepping forward to lead, and multiple partners supporting this work, their efforts are paying off.
In addition to support for the HIRVI Building and the Chiloquin Green Schoolyard project, the City is seeking funding from the Oregon Department of Transportation to support a community pedestrian and bicycle plan to improve the ability for people to walk and bike within the city. This multi-year project includes the improvement of existing sidewalks and creation of on-street bikeways and ACA compliant, safety-enhanced crossings.
Across the street from the HIRVI Building, a vacant 1929 Markwardt Brothers automotive garage is another historic renovation project in the heart of downtown Chiloquin. Funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Business Oregon has been awarded to support clean-up of this former garage, with community discussions shaping the future of the property. Chiloquin was also recently awarded a planning grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to develop a Parks Master Plan, which may incorporate the mill site restoration project that the city wants to see come to fruition.
Despite decades of challenges, current efforts are continuing to gain momentum because more people are optimistic about Chiloquin’s next chapter and are ready to roll up their sleeves and be a part of the change. The community is excited to share more about this journey of revitalizing the downtown corridor as their work continues in 2023.
Photo Credit: Hannah Levine, Chiloquin Community Builders; Reinventing Rural