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Building a legacy

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Friday, May 01, 2009


Joan Austin's Allison Inn & Spa opens in late September.

NEWBERG Joan Austin is sitting in an office a stone’s throw from her Allison Inn & Spa that’s under construction. And yes, it is her project. As president of the Springbrook development, which eventually will include a shopping village and 1,200 homes, this is her gift to the community and even Ken, her husband of 56 years, is on the sidelines for this one.

Which is why the very elegant Austin, dressed this morning in a bright red suit that stands out against the gray day like an early spring tulip, politely — but very graciously — will not say how much the inn costs, because it doesn’t really matter. It is her legacy and legacies are priceless.

“I hope it will bring prosperity to the town,” Austin says simply about what Springbrook could mean to rural Newberg.

Some might say she and Ken already have made good on that hope: In 1964, they founded dental equipment maker A-dec, which employs about 1,000. Austin, a sharp businesswoman, also has a deep commitment to the arts, children and education. The couple donated the land for the nearby Joan Austin Elementary School (where each year Austin has a tea party with the incoming freshmen class), and founded the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University. The Allison sits on a verdant 35 acres about two miles off Highway 99W in the same neighborhood as A-dec and the school.

Austin has lived here for more than six decades, spending several of them acquiring 450 acres within the urban growth boundary. “I’m a land lover,” explains the elegant but shrewd tulip. “I like the dirt.”

While the recession has put the shopping village and the residential plans on hold indefinitely, the Allison is on track to open the last weekend in September, just in time for the wine industry’s crush (and the bride who has that weekend booked). Construction is roaring to make up for lost time from the Christmas snows, which delayed an August


Artist's rendering of the Allison's completion. The inn sits on 35 acres and has 85 rooms, a spa and a restaurant.

debut. There are 250 workers now on site (with a weekly payroll of $400,000 until opening), and in June the Allison will begin hiring 165 full-time positions.
The inn, which broke ground in November 2007, is near 200 wineries in the Willamette Valley region, and the tourism industry that comes with it. As of early April, there were 25 events booked through December 2010, including six weddings, and several hundred room nights were committed for the 85 guestrooms and suites, which are priced from $295 to $1,100. The Allison also has a 15,000-square-foot spa, a 6,000-square-foot restaurant that seats 85, and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

The inn is being built to LEED standards, but sustainability to Austin means more than energy efficiency or green building practices. It means leaving behind something that will last at least 100 years, providing jobs for her community and a place of pride for generations to come.

As the day brightens and a guest tour gets ready to leave, Austin is staying behind. She’s got a letter to the governor to finish and besides, she’s up there all the time, watching her legacy being built brick by brick.


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