Rucklos: Locals pointing the way in downtown makeover

Retired attorney Charles Hillestad’s hit job on a public process that has been ongoing for three years, published in last week’s Viewpoints section, was both sad and inaccurate.

The Third Street Streetscape Project has been in the works for upward of 20 years.

After being talked about in the past, only to be tabled, it is now moving forward through an open and inclusive process. A group of 25 community stakeholders, referred to as the Project Advisory Committee, have volunteered their time and energy to ensure we arrive at the best plan possible.

The PAC is made up of downtown property owners, business owners, community members and city staff. These are people with skin in the game, recruited because they have the most to gain or lose through such a project.

Professionals with both public works and engineering backgrounds have been engaged to evaluate underground utility needs. An Oregon-based architectural firm with a long history of working with urban design and streetscape makeovers has been retained to assist with oversight of the initial elements.

In that context, let’s move on to Mr. Hillestad’s fire alarm contentions.

Trees are at the heart of his concerns, and rightfully so. Our trees contribute immensely to the individual character of Third Street.

Planted some 30 years ago, they have grown to provide a canopy of cover making summers pleasant and enjoyable. Strung with twinkle lights that sparkle at night, they bring a certain magic to our downtown after dark falls.

The problem is that the existing trees have created a navigational nightmare for those walking our downtown sidewalks.

Tree roots have uplifted and heaved our pedestrian right-of-way to a point where they are simply dangerous. We maintain an ADA pathway that would challenge the best of wheelchair-bound residents and visitors.

Mr. Hillestad makes the fictitious claim that we can use “today’s materials and technology to encapsulate those pesky roots.” He ignores the evaluation of an urban forester consulting on the project. Recent removal of a number of diseased or damaged trees illustrates clearly that such a claim is preposterous. Examine a removed tree downtown and you will find roots that cannot be “encapsulated.”

Part of our tree issue stems from lack of maintenance.

Third Street trees were not meant to be so big and unruly. Consistent pruning over the years would have shaped them to better fit our narrow downtown street.

Big trees have larger root spans that become more disruptive to streets and sidewalks over time. A professional analysis indicates our root structure is no more than a foot or two below the surface, and that causes problems.

Now let’s move onto the needs beyond sidewalk replacement.

Anyone walking downtown has traversed intersections where standing water soaks pedestrian shoes as they cross. In many places, the curbs do not hold back water because the street has been overlaid so many times.

Our current storm drain system is insufficient to accommodate rainy season needs. Pipes buried beneath the street surface date back a century. Backed up sewage confronts building owners with basements every year.

When the street is excavated, and pipes are replaced and sewer facilities are upgraded to meet existing and future demands, we gain an opportunity to do things right. New trees that offer variety will allow us to control height and width to better enhance the street.

PAC discussion has centered on pre-growing trees for replacement to get the largest diameters possible. The project allows us to properly install water and electrical resources so we do not have to live with jerry-rigged delivery of these utilities. We can also modernize for the 21st century by providing public broadband service and electric car charging stations.

Mr. Hillestad takes issue with recent surveys, claiming they did not truly reflect public opinion. But one can’t compel the community to participate, only reach out to extend the opportunity.

He suggests a referendum. However, that would only capture a fraction of civic input as well.

A PAC was created to best look out for the interests of all Third Street stakeholders, and it is doing that to the best of its ability.

To date, the project has been funded through American Rescue Plan Act and McMinnville Urban Renewal District funds, in an effort to get it 30% construction-ready. This will allow it to qualify for funds available through the recent federal infrastructure bill.

Formally known as earmarks, these funds are dedicated specifically to projects like our Third Street Streetscape initiative. This is probably the greatest opportunity we will have for federal assistance to upgrade our street.

When the downtown association introduced “Dine Out(Side)” during the first year of the pandemic, there was criticism about shutting down Third Street for dining. Even some of McMinnville’s food and beverage proprietors and city council members were leery of the proposed change.

Two years later, it has become a revered event that doubles the capacity of dining downtown and provides an inviting outdoor option for residents and visitors alike.

If you want a song that truly reflects the needs of Third Street, perhaps listen to “Changes” by David Bowie. Sometimes you have to endure some short-term pain to achieve long-term gain.

Dave Rucklos serves as executive director of the McMinnville Downtown Association. 


Bill B

"The problem is that the existing trees have created a navigational nightmare for those walking our downtown sidewalks." Can you back that statement up with some statistics? I doubt it.

I like the idea mentioned in the letters today; make Third Street pedestrian only.

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