By editorial board • 

Time to move wayfinding from back burner to front

Three years ago, coordinated through the Visit McMinnville tourism organization, McMinnville launched a wayfinding signage project. Within a matter of months, the citizen group had awarded a design contract and raised $36,000 to see the work through.

But it seems the process got mired in debate over design proposals to the point where the original enthusiasm drained away. At least, that’s the explanation we’re now hearing for the ensuing two-year hiatus.

A professional design group presented quality proposals, and sudden termination of the project was a mystery never fully explained. Perhaps it was a surplus of well-intentioned work by a citizen oversight panel that should have been reduced to a yea or nay on professional design proposals.

The ungainly, ill-tempered camel has been described as a horse designed by a committee, and there’s a lot of truth in that adage.

City Planning Director Heather Richards is now holding out hope that the once-promising project can be revived, to which we say, let’s roll up our sleeves and get going.

So much of the planning department output consists of long-range studies designed to guide growth and development in McMinnville for the next 20 or 30 years. That’s all well and good, as sound planning is essential to good results over the long haul. But it lacks the tangible and highly visible short-term payoff promised by the wayfinding project.

We don’t want to see one abandoned for the other. But of late, McMinnville is long on overly abundant and complex long-range planning initiatives, and short on short term accomplishments.

The wayfinding concept is simple: Creation of a network of well planned, designed and sited signage, capable of guiding locals and visitors alike among the community’s leading attractions and facilities.

At present, we are making do with a random hodge-podge marked by large gaps. One of the most glaring examples is the community’s lone downtown parking garage.

A recent study identified the garage — a bare, gray concrete structure — as a seriously underused source of badly needed downtown parking. But there’s no visible indication anywhere that it’s a parking garage, let alone one offering free parking to the public at large.

For a high-end wine country hub as tourist-oriented as this one, that’s a serious oversight. And unfortunately, it’s more the rule than the exception. At present, McMinnville is making virtually no effort to help visitors find their way around.

Which way to the airport? How about Linfield College or the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum?

In fact, it would be easy to zip through McMinnville on Highway 99W without ever discovering its unique downtown charm. We would hate to leave passersby with the sense there’s nothing more to Mac than an expanse of strip commercial development.

Visit McMinnville Marketing Director Kitri McGuire provided this description of the original wayfinding mission in the fall of 2016:

“Wayfinding is divided into two parts — aesthetic and functional. Both are important to address correctly to find the ‘sweet spot,’ where the signage blends into the environment, yet provides information at critical decision points.”

Time’s a-wasting. This is a project well worth getting back on track.



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