Rockne Roll/News-Register
Rockne Roll/News-Register

Heather Richards: Alpine, Atticus just taste of things to come

On July 23, 2013, the McMinnville City Council adopted the city’s first urban renewal plan. After years of engagement, dialogue, visioning and evaluation, the plan was designed to guide public investment in McMinnville’s downtown and Northeast Gateway District for the next 25 years.

July 23 will mark the fifth anniversary, a good time reflect on accomplishments already completed or in the near future.

Urban renewal is a tool allowing taxes already being collected in a designated area to be pooled for strategic investment in public improvement projects and public private partnerships. The aim is to stimulate private investment, develop the tax base and create jobs.

The plan envisions investment of approximately $20 million, adjusted for inflation, to help stimulate development, create a unique identity and ensure local business thrives. It calls for improvements in road, sewer and water systems, and urban design and signage, to encourage new private-sector investment, elevating standards while establishing enduring value.

Guest Writer

Heather Richards moved to McMinnville in August 2016 to replace the retiring Doug Montgomery as planning director. She spent the previous 10 years as community development director in the fast-growing Central Oregon city of Redmond. Earlier in her career, she served as project development coordinator in Nampa, Idaho. She oversaw a $120 million downtown urban renewal plan and $15 million airport industrial renewal plan in Redmond, and a $145 million economic development and redevelopment plan in Nampa. She lives in McMinnville with children Sam and Hadleigh, who attend local schools.

Accomplishments to date include:

Alpine Avenue

The Initial large public improvement project was the first phase of an Alpine Avenue overhaul, completed in April at an approximate cost of $4 million.

Community volunteers worked with city staff on the design that would help transform Northeast Gateway District from a dilapidated industrial environment to a vibrant mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented craftsman environment, attractive to locals and tourists alike. Unique design and features helped portray a distinct sense of place, which is already starting to stir private development interest. 

Feeder streets

The McMinnville Urban Renewal Agency felt the Alpine remake demanded new standards for district side streets. The agency presented a standard capable of accommodating large freight truck turning movements, yet still fostering a comfortable pedestrian environment. 

Downtown parking

With $1 million in hand to address parking needs in the downtown core and abutting Northeast Gateway District, the agency felt it really needed to first develop a basic understanding of current parking availability. It felt that would allow it to more reliably identify issues and potential solutions.

The agency hired Rick Williams Consulting to conduct a study and analyze the data. Its team was able to identify both constraints opportunities.

As a result, the city is planning a mix of capital investments and administrative changes to better use existing inventory. Elements include enhancements to make the existing garage more inviting, outward expansion of the two-hour parking zone, development of a permit system for downtown residents and methods to better manage employee parking.

At the same time, the agency plans to evaluate needs and potential locations for additional parking.

Facade improvement

Despite limited initial revenue, as urban renewal depends on taxes generated through increased value, the agency has already developed a facade improvement program. The aim is to raise standards while protecting and preserving historic character. 

The agency has offered to match the first $2,500 of new private investment in projects exceeding minimum design and development standards it has set. Already, it has had 17 takers producing $52,500 in improvements.

Marcus Larson/News-Register

Atticus Hotel

Every city dreams of a quality construction project like the Atticus Hotel emerging early in the life of its urban renewal plan.

The four-story boutique hotel encompasses 23,000 square feet in a historically themed structure on Fourth Street. It contains 36 hotel rooms and a restaurant, creating more than 50 new jobs.

Total investment ran $8 million, creating a substantial new tax base. That tax base will fund future investments in the district, a snowball effect.

The agency provided a forgivable, five-year, $100,000 loan at a critical time, when the team was value-engineering their project to meet a budget. The modest 1.5 percent investment gave the agency to decide streetscape design, setting a standard for future developments, and preserved unique local craftsmanship elements, helping make this a special legacy project for McMinnville.

Alpine development 

Completion of the first phase of the Alpine project has already stirred interest from the development community, exactly what is needed. For example, the city has begun working with the new owners of the historic Huberd Shoe Grease Co. building, who are planning to develop a MAC Mkt combining shops, restaurants and vacation home rentals.

This is an exciting investment promising to serve as a bookend to the Granary District development to the south. The hope is it will stimulate additional investment between the two.

Third/Alpine connector

In the next few years, the McMinnville Urban Renewal Agency plans to develop a safe, inviting and attractive walking connection between Third and Alpine, encouraging shared vitality. Discussion is currently focusing on the idea of leading people from Third to Irvine, so they enter the Gateway District through the vista of two other historic attractions — Buchanan-Cellers and the Granary District. 

Third Street streetscape

For years, the city has discussed the need for a Third Street Streetscape Project, focusing on sidewalk repair, unique street furnishings, pedestrian accessibility improvements, tree canopy management and infrastructure upgrades to support higher density commercial and residential development. Such a project entails significant engagement from both the business segment and larger community to ensure we are reflecting the character that makes Third Street so special.

Funds have been allocated, with an eye toward beginning in 2021 or 2022. The agency plans to create a project advisory committee within the next 12 months to begin work on the design and scope. It will work with the downtown association and its member merchants on a suitable construction schedule.

City center housing

With a critical need for new housing coinciding with an effort to revitalize the downtown core, the city and agency are seeking grant funding from the state Department of Land Conservation and Development to conduct a housing strategy study. It would analyze opportunities to develop new housing compatible with the historic character of downtown and the Gateway District.

The study would identify which elements of the populations are most interested in living in these locations — senior, millennial, hipster or whatever — and how best to accommodate those elements in a financially feasible way.

Tech terroir initiative

The McMinnville Urban Renewal Agency will be partnering with the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership to identify amenities and infrastructure needed to attract small high tech businesses providing new living wage jobs. With today’s technology, businesses have more choices regarding where they locate, and McMinnville’s city center should be very competitive in terms of quality of life. 


I have been staffing community urban renewal initiatives for 20 years, and it is one of my favorite aspects of planning work. Urban renewal allows a community to strategically invest in a targeted area in order to incentivize job-generating private investment, and in a unique way, establishing a legacy for the next generation.

When we build a public improvement project or construct a new building, it will likely still be in existence 50, 75 or 100 years from now. So it is crucial to be thoughtful and deliberate, so that we generate enduring value for future generations. 

Projects like the Atticus Hotel, Alpine Avenue Improvement Project, MAC Mkt and all the facade improvements would not materialize without the guidance from the McMinnville Urban Renewal Plan. And they will be defining elements of the downtown and Northeast Gateway District for generations to come.

Urban renewal is one of the purest forms of local public investment a community will make in its future. And it demands continued engagement and dialogue.



Thank you for this informative update on the improvements being made to a sorely neglected area of our community. Love the plan!

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