By editorial board • 

Plan long on big dreams, not so much on big means

As the city moves toward completion a new long-range plan for its outdoor park, trail and open space network, we are reminded of some dates from recent history on a closely related project coordinated by the same national consulting firm — MIG Inc., which has a branch office in Portland.

That would be a new long-range plan for the city’s indoor community center, aquatic center, senior center, library and performing arts facilities, all of which are in dire need of development, redevelopment or replacement.

In fact, both are elements of a new 20-year master plan for McMinnville parks and recreation programs, but they seem to have moved forward largely on separate tracks. We feel it would be better those tracks were fully integrated, so the city could set indoor and outdoor priorities, timetables and funding plans in tandem.

Our archives show serious discussion on a new 20-year master plan for McMinnville Parks and Recreation Department programs being launched on July 5, 2016. They show the city council deciding Oct. 29, 2019, to create the McMinnville Project Advisory Committee, charged with examining indoor recreation needs, and the committee, dubbed MacPAC, releasing its final report Jan. 20, 2022.

As of Sept. 29, 2023, more than 20 months later, they show … well, not much of anything new.

The cost of replacing the city’s community center, aquatic center and library, and upgrading its senior center, was estimated at $138 million, not counting land acquisition. A daunting sum for a city of 35,000, that seems to have had a paralyzing effect.

The new outdoor recreation study began with a survey of 2,338 area residents who identified safety and cleanliness as the top priorities for existing facilities, and trail, picnicking, playground and open space as the top priorities for new facilities, in that order. The latter is in keeping with surveys showing trail systems to be the top state priority — and one of the top Yamhill County priorities, second only to playgrounds — for their respective residents.

That doesn’t keep our three current county commissioners from being overtly hostile to every conceivable trail option, be it urban or rural. But their trail aversion shouldn’t deter the city from pressing forward on its own turf.

Long-range park needs break down largely into three categories, each of which entails significant expense: land, development and operation.

As it stands, the plan calls for doubling the city’s current parks, trails and open space inventory of 358 acres; relying largely on grants and system development charges to fund a six-year capital improvement program; and adding just one full-time employee to help manage the expanding enterprise, at least in the short term. Sad to say, none of those seem remotely realistic to us.

For example, take parks and recreation staffing.

Not counting about 10 FTE of maintenance help from the Public Works Department, which remains unchanged, parks staffing slid from 36.2 in 2018-19 to 24.7 in 2022-23, according to MIG. Yet the plans calls for the addition of just one more FTE, and Councilor Adam Garvin complained even about that, saying he’d prefer to see the department achieve greater efficiency instead.

We fear overly optimistic resource assessments like that are going to thwart progress on the new plan. And it seems as if we may have been here before.

As a case in point, we note the city’s 1999 master parks plan proposed 13 new trails. But almost a quarter century later, only one has been completed and only two are in progress, leaving 10 at ground zero.

Granted, there have been some significant areas of progress on other fronts, with some impressive new parks coming on line. However, that depended largely on bond issues, not grants and SDCs. And any progress on indoor facilities is most certainly going to require resorting to major bonding in its own right, perhaps in competition.

We find MIG’s ambitious draft report responsive, visionary and full of good intention. It would be wonderful to see McMinnville’s park and trail system double over the next 20 years. Citizens would be well-served indeed if that were to come about.

But then, we also found its plan for new indoor recreation facilities full of good intention. And none of it seems to have advanced an inch to date.

The key here is to get realistic about what can be achieved and establish a workable plan for actually moving it forward, with both indoor and outdoor needs being fully integrated. Planning is all well and good, but carrying plans through to fruition is what counts in the end.


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