In many ways, Chuck Arnold was as much a fixture in downtown Bend as the silver statue of a man sitting on the bench in front of Starbucks. And now, Rod Porsche, who is taking over Arnold's position as executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association (DBBA), knows he has big shoes to fill.
Still, the gregarious Oregonian, who grew up in Gresham and most recently worked in Albany, seems as if he were fated to get the job. Last December, he and his wife decided they wanted to move to Central Oregon eventually, and found a house in the Sisters area.
"The idea was we were going to kind of use it as a vacation rental because we're not two home kind of folks, so we could offset the cost of the two mortgages," Porsche explains. "And that worked out well for about the first week and a half, and then we thought, 'Man, how can we make this our number one home?'"
Without a solid plan, Porsche and his wife agreed that once the school year wrapped up, one of them would move their fifth and seventh grade daughters to Central Oregon so they could get acclimated, while the other stayed behind in Albany and continued working.
Shortly after Porsche told his old board he'd be leaving, he caught wind of Arnold's pending departure from the DBBA.
"It was just the most amazing lucky break," Porsche recalls. "There aren't too many downtown management jobs like this. I was the executive director, [it was] very similar work. You see 100 flower baskets here? We had 100 flower baskets. They have Veteran's Day parade, we had a Veteran's Day parade. The tree lighting events, I mean, it was very similar. So obviously I was going to apply."
But even though Porsche's qualifications line up incredibly well, he had a lot of competition for the position. DBBA cast a wide net for the position.
"We had 68 applicants from over half a dozen states, and are pleased to find such a great fit with Rod," DBBA Board Member Jim Petersen said in a release. "We believe Rod has the qualities necessary to continue the positive momentum of the DBBA and Downtown Bend overall."
Moreover, if enthusiasm is one of those qualities, Porsche has it in spades. His passion for creating a vital downtown is palpable as he strolls down Bond Street and up Wall, circumambulating the city's core. That desire to play a role in transforming a community is rooted in his background in historic home renovation.
"When I went to Albany 13 years ago, we love historic homes, and so we restored a series of historic homes, four in total, we're talking about 100 percent restoration like no electricity type homes," Porsche explains. "I like the idea of starting with and improving it, whether it's a community or a house. If I can be a part of making my community better, look better, and draw more people, that really appeals to me."
Of course, that stark before-and-after contrast will be tricky to achieve in Bend, because the downtown is already thriving on many levels. Occupancy rates are up, vacancies are down, and the sidewalks are bustling with activity.
"This downtown has so much more energy and action," Porsche says. "I'm really excited about coming into a downtown that has great occupancy levels and such support in terms of our funding structure and our [economic improvement district], which just passed at 100 percent. That really matters because then you have the support of the retailers and the building owners to move agendas forward in terms of what we do in the future."
Despite the similarities between Porsche's new gig and his previous work, he notes that Albany's downtown faces different challenges.
"Because Albany is right on I-5, we got a lot of people just stopping because they were on their way somewhere else. Or, they were really traveling to Corvallis, which is 10 miles away, and we had more hotel rooms, so they stayed there," Porsche says. "Our challenge in Albany was to get them to see historic downtown."
That's not the case in Bend. In part because it's arguably the most exciting stop along highways 97 and 20 on this side of the state. The flow of tourists to downtown Bend needs little encouragement.
"That's a major difference—this is a destination. It was established this way," Porsche says. "While the downtown is similar in terms of size, there are just more people on the streets, year round. And so that's why I come here and I'm so excited. While we can build on this, you've already established it so well. I mean Chuck Arnold who's been there 9 years, I can't say enough about the work he's done to make this what it is."
But beyond all that, he says, Bend just has a good vibe.
"What drew me to downtown Bend," Porsche says, "is it's authentic and there's an energy I didn't see as much in my previous work."