By editorial board • 

Rubber site a rare opportunity for visionary redevelopment

Thirty years ago, McMinnville’s downtown core was virtually at death’s door.

Third Street’s largest and most prominent landmark, the venerable Hotel Oregon, was in a sad state of disrepair, particularly on its abandoned upper floors.

Major traditional retailers were mostly dead or dying, and surrounding auxiliary spaces featured nearly as many empty storefronts as surviving shops.

Traffic rumbled by unimpeded, deterring pedestrians. The streetscape was virtually devoid of vegetation or other aspects of curb appeal.

There were a mere handful of wine and food options, and they weren’t drawing much tourist traffic. Lodging options were even more sparse.

But local leaders founded the McMinnville Downtown Association, and it partnered with the city, the state, the chamber and other civic, business and governmental entities to stage a turnaround. The key was priming the pump to draw meaningful private investment, like the $3 million McMenamins poured into restoration of Hotel Oregon to something passing for its original glory.

Over the ensuing decades, Third Street has been transformed into a veritable bazaar of food, wine, lodging, entertainment and shopping. It has become recognized as a rare gem even on the state and national levels.

In recent years, a new coalition of visionaries has set to work similar magic to the northeast. They are bent on extending downtown’s mixed-use vibrancy and charm into the neighboring Granary and Alpine districts, sometimes lumped in together as the Northeast Gateway District.

Setting out to restore McMinnville’s original industrial district, which had suffered the ravages of aging at least as badly as its original retail core, they took advantage of a new tool now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the McMinnville Urban Renewal District.

The May closure of one of the last major industrial enterprises still operating along the Alpine District’s Alpine Avenue spine, Ultimate RB’s 50,000-square-foot rubber mat and molding plant, presented the city with a rare opportunity to make a spectacular difference in one fell swoop. And it just sealed the deal with a $4.25 million purchase.

Critics complain about the city stretching to manage such an outlay at a time when general fund shortfalls forced it first into tacking a surcharge onto utility bills, then moving to repurpose rather than retire a tax bite previously devoted to fire department operations. But the city is able to borrow the money from a utility capital fund on advantageous terms, and eventually pass the cost on to the urban renewal district.

Were the same critics complaining when the county recently awarded Hampton Lumber a $12 million to $14 million tax break over the next 15 years?

This outlay was for a new plant already committed to a local site, promising to eliminate 70 local family-wage jobs, and offering no prospect or repayment through an urban renewal mechanism. What’s more, it was multiple times the magnitude, and the county is struggling with its general fund commitments just as badly as the city.

Unlike the county, the city is making a thoughtful, measured investment that promises to pay rollover dividends for years to come. We commend its commitment to seizing the opportunity.

The Granary District used to consist of not much more than a largely abandoned grain and fertilizer site, but has since come to boast major beer, wine and coffee operations, along with restaurant, spa and craft options serving to draw considerable traffic.

And since the city committed $4 million to turn Alpine from a gravel track to a bike and pedestrian-friendly carnival street, the Alpine District has been experiencing a rebirth of its own. Key elements include conversion of the former Huberd Shoe Grease factory into the Mac Market multi-use mecca and development of the innovative Boutique Retreat lodging option.

It takes public and private enterprise working in tandem to help a community maximize its potential. That’s long been — and still is, we submit — McMinnville’s secret to success.


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