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Jeb Bladine: Parking structure once a better place

McMinnville has proclaimed the beginning of a “new life” for its downtown parking structure: an end to camping and loitering; a full clean-up; continuing enforcement for a new code of conduct.

Reactions varied. One reader, commenting online, described recently seeing a small family living in a corner of the structure, and an apparently sick woman being helped to drink from a cup.

“It really made me wonder,” he/she wrote, “what these people’s options are that they’re sleeping in a cold, dark, damp, exhaust-filled, concrete shell of a structure where it always feels like a rainy evening in October. Anyway, the important thing is we have more space for cars now.”

Whatchamacolumn

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

> See his column

It was deft sarcasm in the continuing debate about homelessness. But most people will agree it’s appropriate to make an essential downtown parking facility clean and safe for its intended use.

My memories of that block harken to a more bucolic time. Ground-level parking surrounded a small, grassy mound with public restrooms. The downtown anchor separated the core commercial district from old-town residences.

To the east, a handsome, historic county courthouse stood adjacent to the National Guard Armory (today’s Community Center). To the south was the General Hospital (where I was born), the graceful Episcopal Church (where I was baptized) and, just beyond, the old News-Register building. Southwest was home to striking Christian Church and Oregon Mutual buildings.

Yes, there were restrooms — a great downtown public service in those days. People didn’t live there; they just parked, and appreciated easy access to the surrounding institutions.

McMinnville once touted itself for having more off-street parking per capita than any city in America, a fun but unconfirmed claim. The two-story parking structure was built in the early 1980s, capitalizing on the community center investment as matching funds for federal money originally dedicated to build a bridge across the Willamette River at Lambert Bend.

In time, we witnessed the churches torn down, the courthouse replaced with an undistinguished modern structure, the hospital converted to offices, and the parking structure evolve into an unsightly facility.

To some eyes, that area of McMinnville actually was better “in the old days.” But time and urban growth have a way of pushing aside old-style developments to make way for the new.

Here’s hoping that the “new life” of McMinnville parking structure is joined by renewed resolve to maintain the appealing heart of a vibrant community.

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

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