Downtown Dayton's dawn

Downtown Dayton's dawn

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BY ROBIN DOUSSARD

0912 GamePlan DowntownDayton 01
Bill Stoller bought Dayton's First Baptist Church five years ago and is now renovating it. Stoller has bought six other properties in the downtown area.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears

Coming into Dayton off Highway 18, one of the first things you’ll see is the renovation of Dayton’s First Baptist Church that’s under way. It stands out as a visible sign of progress in a downtown marked by vacant storefronts and worn buildings.

The project is the signature of Bill Stoller, who was born and raised in Yamhill County. A prominent businessman (he cofounded Express Employment Professionals in 1983) and founder of Stoller Vineyards, he has deep roots in the community. So the struggles of tiny Dayton, population 2,500, are something he takes personally.

Five years ago Stoller started buying property in the downtown area. So far he has purchased seven properties, including the 1886 church, around the beautiful square, arguably the town’s biggest asset. Stoller is a key driver in Dayton’s efforts to reinvent itself. Founded in 1850, the town has the square, 50 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, easy access from the highway and natural beauty. It is also right in the heart of Oregon wine country. But like many rural Oregon towns, it struggles in the face of few jobs, few businesses and few dollars.

“One of the reasons for doing this is that it’s my home. But Dayton also has significant future potential,” says Stoller. “That’s why I have gotten involved. I didn’t see anyone else stepping forward.” Renovating the church is a concrete statement of his commitment. After it is finished this year, he’ll then decide what to do with it. Over the next few years, Stoller plans to improve the area around the church.

“It hopefully will build the self-confidence of the town,” he says about the church project. “We need to get everything looking good. Within three years, we will have something that really kicks off Dayton. That will be the start.”

Getting started is something Stoller and others in the community feel is finally happening, saying the timing is right for Dayton to begin its turnaround.