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|Thursday, April 12, 2012|
BY LINDA BAKER
I flew into Pendleton this week (SeaPort Airlines, free Voodoo donuts), where a few city and Chamber of Commerce staffers gave me the lay of the land.
Lack of affordable housing is a major constraint to growth, Corbett says. Before the recession, the city’s housing stock revolved around high end second homes or very low rent housing. To help attract new industry, the city is now in urgent need of mid range workforce housing, says Corbett, noting that the topology of the region--steep hills and valleys-- makes construction challenging, as does a tight lending environment. The city is currently trying to pull together public and private financing to build such housing on a parcel of publicly-owned land designated as high density residential.
The new $45 million upgrade of the Umatilla tribes' Wildhorse Resort and Casino has also "positively impacted our community," says Corbett. Another bright spot is downtown Pendleton, which has maintained its vibrancy and historic character in part because of an urban renewal zone that has allowed local business owners to invest in storefront improvements and other landscaping and design features.
The urban core also benefits from the presence of Hamley’s food and craft empire, featuring world-renowned saddle and leather craftsmanship--and perhaps an equally renowned steakhouse. Despite the 21 vacant storefronts, downtown feels dense and lively, and I bore witness to MacKenzie’s claim that there are often more cars parked downtown after 5 p.m. than during the day.
Like many rural Oregon communities, Pendleton suffers from a shrinking population and limited employment opportunities. But the city is also better positioned than most to flourish in the 21st century. “We have a long history and tradition in the community; it’s very safe and is ranked one of the country's best places to raise a family," says Corbett. "We just need to figure out how to make that happen for more of them.”
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.
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