BY ROBIN DOUSSARD
If you live in Portland or on the Coast, the best thing about the Newberg-Dundee bypass that will be completed in 2016 is you won’t have to sit through the legendary traffic jam on Oregon 99W as it runs through the center of both towns.
But if you live in Newberg or Dundee, the best thing about the new bypass — 25 years in the making — is that it gives you the chance to rethink, rebuild or recover the charm of your wine-country town. Now that the first phase of the bypass is a reality, it opens up possibilities for each city and allows the conversation to begin — or accelerate — about the shape of the future.
For Newberg, the opportunity to reclaim its remarkably intact and historic downtown in a lasting and meaningful way is another building block in its ongoing growth and revitalization. As you try to speed through town on the highway, it’s easy to get the impression that Newberg is a tired, hard-by-the-highway town. Indeed, this is one of the state’s worst choke points, and it has stymied business growth for decades throughout Yamhill County. But that windshield view misses Newberg’s graceful buildings, the Willamette River, the town’s strong civic leadership and a good jobs base. The ingredients for the burgeoning success of Newberg also include “just damned good luck,” laughs Mike Ragsdale, the executive director of the Newberg Downtown Coalition.
Ragsdale has no problem ticking off what he sees is working. “Even without the bypass, Newberg has great potential; even with the traffic, we are seeing a resurgence,” he says. “Downtown has great potential. It’s got great buildings and density. There were 11 vacancies three years ago; now there are only three. Now there are eight or nine wine-tasting rooms.”
With the bypass, Ragsdale and other town leaders see a huge opportunity to speed up progress, likening Newberg right now to McMinnville’s potential 20 years ago, when the highway still ran through its downtown heart, and before Third Street became a lovely haven of boutiques, wine-tasting rooms, restaurants and robust retail.
“They are going to be getting their downtown back,” says Dave Haugeberg, McMinnville attorney and chair since 1988 of the Yamhill County Parkway Committee, who worked for 25 years on the bypass project. “The bypass won’t get it entirely back, but getting rid of truck traffic is huge. Having 20,000 cars go by your business that don’t want to stop is not conducive to business whether you own a McDonald’s or a small boutique.”
Despite a recent Sunset magazine article that declared it a “former pass-through town” with the kind of food, wine and art “you used to find only deeper inside the Willamette Valley,” Maureen Rogers, owner of the Chapters Books and Coffee on First Street for seven years, says much more is needed to create a thriving downtown. Just reducing the flow of traffic won’t be enough to turn it around. “We need more reasons to get out of your car,” she says — reasons such as more restaurants, more retail, more parking.
But it’s a great start. Over the next several years, as the bypass gets built, the town plans to continue rehabbing downtown buildings and making street improvements, and it is just beginning the process of revisiting and sharpening its strategic vision. “We have a vision of what we could be, not what we used to be,” says city manager Dan Danicic.
“The bypass will help solidify our goals, like getting our downtown back,” says Newberg mayor Bob Andrews, “and to create a greater physical connectivity in the community. We want to establish a neighborhood lifestyle.”