By editorial board • 

One big project spiked, but change still in offing

It’s final. The last word has been said.

Downtown McMinnville will not be getting a six-story, $60 million resort hotel. The Gwendolyn’s Portland developer has raised the white flag by letting his last appeal opportunity pass and releasing his purchase options on elements of the site.

But we’re reminded of the traditional saying in monarchies when death conveys the crown to the next generation: “The king is dead, long live the king!”

That is to say, the old development proposal is, it would appear, merely ceding the field to others. They figure to prove equally disruptive, if not even more so, and perhaps equally transformative in the end.

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus proclaimed some 500 years before Christ, “The only constant in life is change.” Indeed.

The biggest coming attraction downtown, by far, is the city’s ambitious Third Street Streetscape Project.

The city has seen it coming for a quarter of a century, predicated on deteriorating sewer, water and storm drain systems, dating back as much as a century; a network of sidewalks buckling from the pressure of burgeoning root systems below; and aging pavement that will have to be replaced in the process. And the project is now nearing the point of imminent action.

Downtown’s majestic treescape has long been a point of local pride, but engineers say it can’t stand the stress of extensive infrastructure work being simultaneously undertaken both above and below ground. Replacing it with long rows of trees destined to grow equally large will serve only to give the city another day of disruptive reckoning some 30 years hence, dictating a somewhat different approach.

Meanwhile, a local group is moving forward with plans to renovate downtown’s historic Hotel Yamhill/Mack Theater complex to a realistic semblance of its former glory. Elements of the same group developed the successful Atticus Hotel and Third Street Flats venues, so have the track record to pull it off.

And, lest we forget, the city is promising to revive its long-stalled wayfinding project this year. That figures to deliver signage of a form and function befitting a burgeoning mecca of tourism.

There remains one elephant in the room, however — public parking. The way we see it:

The Gwendolyn would probably have won approval but for its massive scale, seen as too disproportional to pass muster in a town that dotes on its historic downtown. And economics wouldn’t have dictated such massive scale but for its costly underground parking component, seen as essential in a corridor with little public parking to spare.

The city does have a two-story, 300-space parking garage dating back to the 1980s available for public use. But it’s ugly, uninviting, poorly marked and only marginally maintained, hence badly underused.

If you’re a local, you know enough about it to look elsewhere. If you’re an out-of-towner, you don’t know enough about it to even realize it’s an option.

We’d like to see the city undertake a cosmetic overhaul giving the old gray lady a grand new look — a much more conspicuous and pleasing new look. We’d also like to see the city consider at least acquiring property suitable for eventual construction of a companion garage in the greater downtown area.

When developers come along with big-ticket projects like the Gwendolyn, it would probably make more sense for them to help the city cover the cost of a new parking structure than it would resorting to an extraordinarily costly underground option. But the city would have to have the groundwork laid in order to take advantage.

A consultant study undertaken in 2017 tallied 798 on-street and 2,845 off-street parking places, with usage peaking at around 85%. That seemed adequate at the time, but may not be today and certainly won’t be tomorrow, as McMinnville continues to develop both its hometown and tourist destination appeal.

Finally, we think any tourism destination worthy of the title needs to provide a public restroom option as well. As long as we’re getting new downtown signage, sidewalks, kiosks, trash receptacles, lampposts, benches, shouldn’t we also be getting some sort of public restroom facility?

We think even Heraclitus would approve, rest his soul.


Bill B

Agree with all except the restroom idea. I'm sure you'll recall that all the park restrooms have been locked up due to "bad behavior". What do you think would happen with another restroom? Maybe a pay restroom like those found in larger cities here and abroad.