By editorial board • 

Reflecting on downtown successes as Hotel Oregon celebrates anniversary

News-Register file photo##McMenamins Hotel Oregon has been a symbol of downtown revitalization efforts that span many decades. Those efforts continue today.
News-Register file photo##McMenamins Hotel Oregon has been a symbol of downtown revitalization efforts that span many decades. Those efforts continue today.

McMenamins has become an iconic corporation in the Northwest with its unique decor, abundance of entertainment options and penchant for giving new life to historic, abandoned buildings. Restoration and historic preservation have been front and center of the chain’s 50-plus locations.

In McMinnville, McMenamins Hotel Oregon is more than a venue for food, drink, entertainment and hospitality. Its development became, at least to some degree, synonymous with redevelopment of a downtown that would become known as having the Best Main Street west of the Mississippi.

That’s not to say the $2.8 million renovation of the former Hotel Elberton building, built in 1905, was a launching point for downtown development. Those efforts had been ongoing for more than a decade when McMenamins opened to the public on Jan. 27, 1999. That celebration coincided with many others around the same time, such as Harvest Fresh’s move to the ground floor of the Masonic Building and many merchants opening new shops on a smaller scale. It certainly was an exciting time for McMinnville, which was just crossing the threshold of 25,000 population.

As McMenamins celebrates the 25th anniversary of Hotel Oregon this weekend, it’s worth remembering all the revelry from a quarter-century ago in downtown McMinnville, and appreciate the successes that led up to 1999, and those that have occurred since.

Walt Gowell knows a thing or two about those times. In a story in today’s News-Register, the retiring attorney and longtime volunteer — including service as the third president of the McMinnville Downtown Association board — reflected on his 40 years in McMinnville.

Gowell joined with an “early generation of downtown activists” in the 1980s to create a blueprint for a revitalized downtown. In 1999, among the celebrations mentioned above, he was part of a group tasked with the formation of a 20-year plan for downtown, to ensure continued success stories for the next generation. Part of those efforts included convincing city leaders to create an Urban Renewal District in the downtown area to secure funding for ongoing improvements.
While saying he would like to be remembered for his contributions to downtown revitalization since 1985, Gowell noted he was one of hundreds of participants planning for the future in hundreds of meetings. And that’s probably putting it lightly.

During the summer of 1999, the N-R editorial board wrote: “McMinnville’s charm and economic health stem from decisions made by citizens over the years. Many of those decisions have reflected the local desire to have a strong, vibrant downtown. That public participation is important as the planning process continues its focus on the downtown and other areas of the city.”

The same words ring true 25 years later, as citizens work with city staff on a downtown streetscape redevelopment plan and ongoing improvements funded by Urban Renewal funds.

With that, we wish the McMenamins operation a happy Silver Anniversary, and extend our appreciation to the businesses, organizations and individuals tied to the past, present and future successes of McMinnville’s downtown.


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