Bladine: Economics not there for a rehab

The News-Register, and our family, can say this about the Gwendolyn Hotel: It is not “our project.”

That is no disrespect to the Hugh Development proposal to build an expansive hotel, restaurant and retail complex in place of three downtown buildings. However, our connection to that plan consists of a long and thus-far unsuccessful effort to sell two of those buildings.

Architectural drawings of the project have drawn praise, but there is opposition from people who don’t want those buildings replaced with that size of project in that location. While debate continues – in the community and in today’s “pro-con” presentation – we want to provide some historic and more recent context about the property.


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

In 1976, we leased and moved into what now is called the News-Register building at 611 NE Third St. When the adjacent O’Dell’s Tire Shop closed in 1982, we leased that building and made it our company fueling station and newsprint warehouse. The O’Dell building was built in 1904, the N-R building between 1912-28, and both underwent significant modifications over time.

In 1985, gas fumes revealed a leaking underground storage tank beneath the sidewalk at Ford and Third streets. In 1986, our site cleanup effort drew an informal “No Further Action” determination by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and later that year we purchased two properties at that intersection, along with the adjacent Fourth Street buildings.

[See also: Paddock: Rue the day aging buildings worth more dead than alive ; and, Clarke: Aim of Gwendolyn Hotel project to maintain, embrace]

We had no idea that 14 years later, DEQ would revive the leak case, which is only now, after 37 years, approaching final resolution.

In 2000, we replaced the drive-through portion of O’Dell service station with storefront construction, and transformed the building into newspaper offices. Back then, such renovation efforts made financial sense — a situation much changed today by building codes and regulations governing preservation of old buildings.

More than a decade ago, the city of McMinnville building inspector told us a major renovation of the two-story N-R building would require near-total demolition and not prove financially feasible. We believed further renovation of the O’Dell building next door wouldn’t be feasible either, so we launched efforts in 2017 to sell those two buildings.

We engaged local hospitality industry entrepreneurs, civic institutions and owners of expanding businesses. And we extended our marketing to reach commercial property interests statewide.

The response was the same from all who considered a purchase and renovation option: “It just doesn’t pencil out.”

In 2018-19, we applied for a major state historic preservation grant, available for deserving projects in McMinnville and other Oregon communities. A local committee with downtown association, city of McMinnville and visitor association members selected a different project that subsequently failed to qualify because it lay outside the downtown Economic Improvements District.

The COVID epidemic in 2020-21 created new financial challenges to the long, steady decline of the newspaper and printing industries. In 2020, seemingly close to resolving the petroleum leak case, DEQ decided to require extended testing of the surrounding area.

In mid-2021, Hugh Development made conditional offers to purchase our two buildings and the Bennett building adjacent to the east. Hugh has updated its design in response to public testimony, plans to excavate the entire site for underground parking and awaits more public hearings and final action by the city to approve or deny its demolition applications.

This year, DEQ agreed to consider a No Further Action process with requirements that await endorsement by an adjacent property owner and the city. Before the end of the year, the News-Register will vacate its downtown buildings and we will reunite our newspaper and printing staff at the Oregon Lithoprint printing plant at Miller Street and Riverside Drive in the McMinnville Industrial Park.

Looking forward, we wonder if the combination of building code and historic building preservation laws are becoming a form of government taking of property. That question will draw broader interest as the city contemplates new and even more stringent requirements for downtown buildings and hundreds more “historic” buildings and homes throughout our community.

Looking back, for 94 years, our company and family have played significant roles in development and revitalization of downtown McMinnville, so we understand and appreciate various responses to the Hugh Development proposal. Perhaps, if that project is denied, those most passionate about our old and increasingly fragile buildings will want to acquire and preserve them for other uses themselves.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.


Don Dix

Jeb -- As you know (or will know), those that are 'most passionate' about the preservation of the older buildings in Mac have no interest in acquiring anything -- only scrutinizing every detail of any plan.
Most are 'all hat and no cowboy'!


Giddy up!

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