By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Whatchamacolumn: Car crash boosts development plans

Belated thanks to the 80-year-old driver who, in June, accidentally slammed through a back wall of the county Planning Department building at Fourth and Ford streets. You were unidentified in the news, but you helped trigger more action on essential, far-reaching downtown McMinnville development.

That long-discussed venture is consolidation of Yamhill County facilities, with opportunities to break up the public property blockade to north downtown development.

County planning offices now will move into the Oregon Mutual Insurance building, where the county already leases space for computer services and other employees. Also, the county just approved major remodeling work at 310 Kirby St. on the east end of downtown, preparing it for relocation of Yamhill County Public Health offices.

Oregon Mutual has downsized its local workforce in recent years, and work-at-home employees have further vacated office and parking space at the dramatic 62,000-sq.-ft. OMI building. Many people have suggested that the beautiful OMI building, completed in 2007, would make a great county courthouse, either permanently or at least during a period of major redevelopment for the county’s downtown maze of facilities.

One potential high-rise development site spans Ford Street where planning and public health buildings will be vacated. Another site is the code-challenged courthouse itself — built in 1964 — where most county facilities could be consolidated into a high-rise office/parking structure. It remains to confirm whether renovation of the courthouse to code is financially feasible compared to demolition and new development.

The stakes are high, not only for Yamhill County but for the city of McMinnville.

County employees fill up much of the city’s parking structure, which can’t continue indefinitely without county funding. The labyrinth of county facilities currently in place prevents meaningful city planning for its own parking needs, civic center and other public amenities, not to mention stopping private-sector, tax-paying development projects.

This week’s announcement of new space for county planning and public health operations is great news, putting in place some key pieces to solving the downtown property puzzle. It now remains for Yamhill County — working closely with city officials and the public — to come up with a concrete long-range plan for consolidation of its many government operations, enabling concurrent planning projects by other interests.

We’ve been writing for many years about the needs to merge county offices into new downtown facilities. But we never guessed that one big boost might come from a vehicle crash-landing into the county planning department. Well-done, unidentified driver!

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.



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