Downtown Dayton’s dawn


0912 GamePlan DowntownDayton 01Coming 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.

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BY ROBIN DOUSSARD

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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.

 


 

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Above: A few of Dayton’s downtown buildings have been refurbished in the past year.
Below: The historic square in the middle of downtown is one of Dayton’s biggest assets.
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
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Over the past year, three historic downtown buildings have been refreshed, and in August the town began work on a strategic plan, according to Kelly Haverkate, program manager for the Dayton Community Development Association (DCDA). She says the plan, to be completed in December, will be used to guide the redevelopment of the downtown, along with being a business-recruiting tool.

Stoller wants to find developers for his properties, and he would like to see multiuse or even residential projects in them. “And Jim Seufert is there with his winery,” Stoller says. “It would be great to have a few more. We need that critical mass.”

Seufert founded his winery in 2005 and opened his tasting room in downtown Dayton in 2007. He also is on the board of the DCDA. Seufert thinks the town should build on its food roots: its agricultural history, wine country location and nearby organic farms. In addition, the town is home to the highly regarded Joel Palmer House restaurant.

“Each little town needs a clear calling card. Carlton has really staked out the wine angle,” says Seufert. “Because of Dayton’s history, food is a natural fit.”

What excites Seufert is the idea for a $5 million, 15,000-square-foot food-business incubator on or nearby the central square with three components: a shared production facility, retail space to sell food products made on site, and room for training and meetings. He says the DCDA is working on this idea and exploring setting up a nonprofit group to organize it and look for funding.

“The key is to figure out what Dayton wants to be, needs to be. And then you market it. We’ve always struggled with that,” says Stoller. “It’s going to take a long view and 25 years to get there. But I think I have that time to see it through.”




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