Downtown issues need a community response
Local history reveals diverse times of unwanted congregations in downtown McMinnville. That trend continues today with an upswing in downtown loitering that troubles merchants and the customers they serve.
Thanks to former teen cruiser Ruben Contreras, Dragging the Gut has become a huge downtown tourist draw. But cruisers weren’t so welcome back in the day, before their manners mellowed, their responsibilities grew and their wallets fattened.
Cruising got its start during World War II and had its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s. It came to be considered a menace of no small proportion by local retailers, though, and they enlisted police in a campaign that eventually shut it down.
Over intervening years, the threat has shifted from car to foot, bike or board. And its latest manifestation has led the McMinnville Downtown Association to propose enlistment of a broad coalition of allies in a task force.
The issue has a long history.
During a time in the 1980s, crowds of young people congregated in doorways and thumbed their noses at all attempts to move them away from the flow of shoppers. It took a near-riot situation one Saturday before parents and family members intervened to order some teenagers off the streets.
Within 10 years of the Downtown Historic District’s 1986 debut, its period charm had made it a magnet for locals and out-of-towners alike for quality shopping, dining and entertainment experiences. But News-Register archives are full of complaints about youth activities serving to rain on the party, including loitering, vandalism, panhandling, smoking, cursing, fighting, tagging, flashing and theft, along with offensive dress, behavior, demeanor and body adornment.
In 2003, when Wayne McFarlin was police chief, merchants tried installing speaker systems in key haunts and using elevator music as a deterrent. McFarlin called it a new trend in community policing —crime prevention through environmental design.
Union Block, US Bank, Key Bank and the 1893 Shops were among practitioners. Rotary and Downtown Association forces went together on a system for the granddaddy of gathering spots, the US Bank Plaza.
In December 2007, vandals struck a series of businesses at the height of the holiday season, including Oregon Stationers and Harvest Fresh. The following week, they hit the McMinnville Aquatic Center.
Two years later, Oregon Mutual complained that rogue bikers and boarders had caused $10,000 in damage to specially engineered pre-cast concrete railings the company had imported from Mexico. The staff said surveillance video showed youths placing a wooden ramp to enable middle-of-the-night takeoffs.
In the spring of 2011, taggers defaced buildings from one end of Third to the other. More than two dozen graffiti strikes were reported in March alone, many of them featuring obscenities and racial epithets.
Given this history, we aren’t hopeful any measure will ever fully curb the challenge. It is a problem once again at center stage, as described in detail today in a Page One news story.
We hope a concerted effort can diminish the damage. Enlisting a broad community cross-section, as the Downtown Association proposes, is a good way to begin.