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Jeb Bladine: Progressive looks at parking solutions

McMinnville has been progressive about downtown parking for decades. As tourism and property developments returned parking challenges to the forefront of public discussion, decision-makers will join a long line of forward-looking activists.

Growing up in the 1950s, I remember local leaders bragging that McMinnville had more off-street parking per capita than any other city in America. I don’t know if anyone actually documented that fun statistic, but it always stuck with me as a good thing.

Back then, the full block currently holding McMinnville’s parking structure was surface parking for the downtown, complete with restrooms. It served the hospital, post office, Episcopal and Christian churches — all since relocated — as well as the courthouse, nearby businesses and downtown shoppers.

In the 1980s, McMinnville developed that block into a two-story parking structure using federal funds originally set aside for the ill-fated Lambert Bend bridge. Over time, the city developed a string of parking lots along Second Street, and relocated its people and vehicles to new core-area facilities for parks, fire, administration, police, and planning/public works.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Downtown’s much-valued historic roots were retained in great measure because the city eliminated off-street parking requirements for downtown developments. Today, with parking at a premium, that policy is under scrutiny, but changes should be considered carefully with an eye on unintended consequences.

Times change. In 2001, when county officials discussed the possibilities of major facility relocation, the parking structure was a key element in keeping all those people downtown. Today, Yamhill County likely will be encouraged to join with the city in ideas for new parking development and financing plans.

In July 2015, before the Atticus Hotel and other downtown housing projects were concepts on the table, I wrote in this space:

“Already, parking is being pushed into adjacent neighborhoods, and traffic has increased from people circling in search of space close to their destination … Multi-floor parking structures are extravagantly expensive, but the time may come when that kind of development is considered a necessity. Meanwhile, the city is ramping up plans to spend a half-million-dollars annually promoting tourism.”

Little did I know that our company would soon add urgency to that 2015 observation by giving up a surface parking area, now slated to hold a 36-room hotel in 2018.
A city-sponsored parking study is underway, and interesting ideas are circulating. This latest look at downtown parking, in any event, will follow a number of imaginative efforts from past years.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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