By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Third named one of top five streets in America

Plenty of stores for shopping, restaurants for dining and venues for winetasting. Shady trees that turn brilliant colors in the fall. Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks with benches for resting and bike racks for parking two-wheelers. Art galleries, banks, a locally owned pharmacy, a locally owned grocery and a variety of other businesses. A farmer's market, alien parades, outdoor concerts, even Ben Franklin.

McMinnville's Third Street has it all, according to local residents, city officials, the McMinnville Downtown Association and Parade Magazine, which last year named it the second-best downtown area in the nation.

Now the American Planning Association has confirmed that assessment, naming McMinnville's main downtown drag one of the top five Great Streets on its annual Great Places in America List.

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"This year's list highlights the power of a single, well-planned street to stimulate economic activity and energize and entire community," said Carol Rhea, APA president, who announced the honor this morning.

A delegate from the APA will visit McMinnville at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, to present the award.

The public is invited to the event, which will be held in Kent L. Taylor Civic Hall. A light lunch will to follow.

Rhea said the list recognizes "those who have worked hard through careful planning, public engagement and innovation to build better places to live, work, play and visit, one street at a time."

That's exactly what McMinnville has done, said local attorney Walt Gowell, who has chaired the MDA, as well as city visioning and master planning committees.

"Third Street is a credit to the many volunteers who've served," he said, "and a tremendous amount of credit goes to the city planning department and to Doug Montgomery." That's a reference to McMinnville's planning director, who came aboard in the early 1990s.

Gowell, who has been with the MDA board since the downtown organization's founding in the mid-1980s, said he was thrilled to learn of the latest honor for Third Street. He had just returned from lunch at a downtown restaurant when he got the word.

"I often walk Third and admire what the shopkeepers are doing and notice new businesses," he said. And stopping for lunch is just a bonus.

Property owners and tenants have joined paid city staffers and elected council membes — along with other downtown supporters — in making Third Street what it is today, according to Gowell and MDA Manager Cassie Sollars.

Sollars said, "One of the things we're very proud of is the planning that went into making Third such a wonderful place to be."

"They tried to look into the future and see what the vision should be for downtown," Gowell said of the parties to that process. "Then they made slow, steady, incremental progress toward refurbishing buildings, attracting quality tenants, publicizing McMinnville's many qualities and welcoming the outside world."

 

The planning got its start in the 1970s, continued into the 1980s with the formation of the MDA, and was part of the city's Task Force 2000 and Third Street Streetscape projects.

Over the decades, as trees were planted, sidewalks reformatted and buildings preserved, the city changed dramatically.

Once little used, it's now a dynamic area that draws almost everyone in town at one time or another, not just tourists, Sollars said. They come to listen to Brown Bag concerts, catch the Alien Days parade, enjoy a nostalgic cruise, dine out, or shop for vegetables, books, clothes or wine.

To Sollars, it's no mystery why Third Street made APA's list of the top five streets in the nation, joining Lexington Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina; Laura Street in Jacksonville, Florida; Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio; and Olvera Street in Los Angeles, California. "Third Street deserves this," she said.

But she doesn't know how the APA discovered McMinnville's favorite street and tapped it to join streets in cities many times its size.

APA officials notified her in July, but didn't tell her who had nominated Third Street for the high honor.

"Whoever it was, I'm so pleased they felt that way," Sollars said. She termed the award "a wonderful surprise."

"Third Street is magical," Sollars said. "It offers an experience that's unique, authentic.

"It's hard to put into words, but when you're there, you feel it."

 

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