By editorial board • 

Downtown showstoppers not a matter of mere coincidence

The hits just seem to keep on coming for McMinnville’s locally cherished and nationally heralded downtown. The latest is the announcement last week that a group of deeply rooted locals have banded together to rehab the historic Mack Theater/Hotel Yamhill complex, directly across the street from McMenamins Hotel Oregon.

A common thread runs through them one and all — local vision, local financing and a collective coming together of local private and public sector players to make it happen.

That’s also true of other major historically themed elements that set McMinnville apart from more mundane counterparts dotting highways across the land — the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, created by entrepreneur Del Smith and rescued after his bankruptcy and death by local entrepreneur Bill Stoller; the bustling Granary District, painstakingly restored by Linfield grad Kelly McDonald; and the emerging Alpine District, anchored by the 1929 Huberd’s Shoe Grease building, now housing the thriving Mac Market complex.

But the deepest and richest vein is found in McMinnville’s downtown core.

The first of the truly signature developments was McMenamins Hotel Oregon, a five-story bar, restaurant and hotel project turning the community’s leading eyesore into its leading attraction when it opened in January 1999.

The Oregon-based McMenamin brothers were preceded by others, including Ken Wright at Panther Creek Cellars, Peter Kircher at Golden Valley Brewery and Gerry Hunter at 3rd Street Pizza, in repurposing historic downtown buildings — but not on nearly such a grand scale. McMenamins set the stage for a long series of historically themed rehab and new construction projects, most recently exemplified by First Federal’s commanding new headquarters complex.

Just days before McMenamins opened, Fred Passmore announced plans to sell the Mack Theater complex, hopefully to someone who would cherish and preserve its historic roots. Now it’s finally coming to pass, more than two decades of passive caretaker ownership later.

In the meantime, Harvest Fresh spurred residential redevelopment of second-story quarters throughout the downtown core by adding groceries to the complement of books, toys, records, clothes, drugs other staples already available on Mac’s main Third Street corridor. Its move, into the rehabbed Masonic Building, followed that of McMenamins by just a matter of months.

Other signature projects over the ensuing years include Oregon Mutual’s grand new headquarters complex in 2007, the initial Third Street Flats vacation rental development in 2010, Bob Emrick’s KAOS complex in 2013, the $8 million Atticus Hotel showpiece in 2017, and, most recently, the Taylor-Dale Hardware rehab carried out by local members of the Jackson Family Wines group.

Several ingredients have contributed to McMinnville’s ability to spin off imaginative new endeavors one after another, when so many other cities have established legacies of failure. It’s not just home-grown entrepreneurs with vision.

They include nurturing downtown association leadership from the likes of locals Patti Webb and Cassie Sollars, now being ably carried on by local Dave Rucklos; mid-block crosswalks, corner bulb-outs, sidewalk trees, routing of highway traffic elsewhere and other pedestrian-friendly measures, courtesy of remarkably stable and forward-thinking city hall leadership; and an enterprising urban renewal program promising to pay big long-term dividends.

The crew behind the ambitious Mack Theater/Hotel Yamhill Rehab consists of the Third Street Flats/Atticus Hotel veterans Erin Stephenson, Brian Shea and Ben Perle, partnering with fellow locals Charlie Hays and Bob Komin. No word on the financing yet, at this early stage, but the Atticus was funded in large measure by another locally grounded institution — Citizens Bank.

The Mack Theater has been closed for 15 years and the Hotel Yamhill for 50. But the oldest part of the building housing them dates all the way back to 1886.

That being the case, here’s hoping their closures end up being but mere blips on a much longer continuum. If anyone can pull it off anywhere, it would be this special group in this special place.


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