On the road

1112 OnTheRoad 01Traffic-choked Newberg and Dundee are seizing on new possibilities for their futures as a hard-won bypass finally becomes a reality.

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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.”

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Part of the town’s “damned good luck” is the Austin family. Ken and Joan Austin founded dental-equipment maker A-dec in 1964, now among Newberg’s biggest employers. In addition, the family’s philanthropy is considerable, such as donating land for a new elementary school. In 2009 the luxury Allison Inn & Spa opened, a personal project of Joan’s. It has garnered national and international press for its amenities and food, and along the way has helped put Newberg in the spotlight. Local leaders give it huge credit for spurring interest in the town and the Yamhill County wine industry, and for giving the region a glossy buzz that had been missing. Jory, the Allison’s restaurant, has been joined by other high-end eateries in town such as Recipe and Subterra.

Loni Parrish, the Austins’ daughter, is making her own second-generation impact. She owns a dozen buildings downtown, including the Art Elements art gallery on First Street, which opened two years ago, and the Chehalem Valley flour mill, which she wants to turn into an artists’ collective. Parrish grew up in the 1970s hanging out in downtown and remembers its slower pace and small-town charm. She wants to see that return.

“I believe in downtown,” she says. She also believes in being responsible to the community, values instilled by her parents, and has been buying and preserving Newberg’s historic buildings. “I know what they used to look like,” she says. Her vision of what is possible isn’t Napa Valley ­— it’s closer to home.

“People say this is what Napa used to be,” she says. “And I’m hoping it won’t turn into that. I wish we could be like McMinnville’s Third Street.”

Newberg’s other ingredients for success go beyond just luck.

With a population of 22,300, Newberg is Yamhill County’s second-largest city after McMinnville. Danicic says the town has a good mix of industries and commercial and industrial land, though not enough. The city hopes to complete a 200-acre southeast industrial expansion in the next five years. He also says that one of the city’s “hidden gems” is the Springbrook property in North Newberg, owned by the Austins, more than 400 acres with plans for residential and commercial building.

Newberg has a diverse job base. “We are not a blue-collar city,” says Andrews. “We have a lot of manufacturing and tech jobs.” Manufacturing employs the largest percentage in Yamhill County, even though manufacturing employment decreased from an average of 6,640 in 2007 to 5,900 in 2011. The bankruptcy of SP Newsprint, which operates a Newberg pulp mill, doesn’t help. The mill has been one of the town’s largest employers. Most Newberg residents were employed in the manufacturing, education and human health service sectors in 2010.

Other large employers include Current Electronics, Newberg Public Schools, Providence Newberg Medical Center and George Fox University, which has more than 2,000 students at its Newberg campus. George Fox is a well-manicured, private Christian college that employs about 500, but being a large employer is only part of its impact on the town. Rob Felton, George Fox University spokesman and president of the downtown coalition, says that during just the summer, the university brings 33,000 visitors to Newberg. The collaboration, which did not always exist between the town and the university, is growing and now important to both.

“The more attractive it is, the more attractive George Fox is,” Felton says. George Fox has growth plans of its own. It will field a football team in 2014, and will complete a $7.2 million stadium and athletic center on 23 acres donated by the Austin family.

The town is thinking in broad, connective ways. Adding to its beautifully restored and expanded Carnegie library and a revitalized summer farmers market are large projects that have been completed in the past few years, including a $50 million expansion of its sewer system now under way; an 18-hole public golf course; and a 15-acre branch of Portland Community College that opened last year, with 630 students enrolled this fall term.

Then there is the Chehalem Cultural Center, a gorgeous rethinking of a historic elementary school, which opened in 2010, showcasing artists and providing classes and performance space. The first third of the renovation is complete, and the 40,000-square-foot center needs another $5.5 million to finish the rehab.

“The impact of the CCC will be huge,” says Parrish, a passionate arts advocate who is on the center’s board and helped curate the Oregon art for the Allison.

Robert Dailey, the center’s new executive director, sees the CCC as an important part of the town’s economy. “An arts facility makes a community more attractive for investment,” he says. “This center fits perfectly into the wine economy.” In 2010, 30% (255) of the wineries and 32% (6,511 acres) of the total vineyard acreage statewide was located in Yamhill County.

Of course, as there is in all cities of every size, there is a long list of ideas that await funding. Town leaders want to eventually turn OR 99W into two-way streets in both directions to further calm the traffic. The Chehalem trail system plan is about 3% complete, according to Don Clements, Chehalem Parks and Recreation District superintendent. The plan calls for roughly 20 miles of hiking and biking trails that would connect the town to the Willamette River and to Dundee. There are also plans for a civic corridor in central downtown, a cultural district and development of the riverfront area that will be traversed by the bypass.

Along with nonexistent or shoestring budgets, declining property tax revenues and high unemployment, there is unlimited creativity and commitment. There’s a palpable sense that Newberg’s time is now.

“This used to be a dumpy little mill town. Now it’s the gateway to the wine country,” says Mike Ragsdale. “It’s time to seize the moment — and it’s an opportunity we can lose.”

1112 OnTheRoad 10

32,000 vehicles per day travel through downtown Dundee on OR 99W.

13,000 vehicles will be taken out of the traffic flow in downtown Dundee with the bypass.

1,500 heavy trucks will be drawn off the highway to the new bypass, cutting freight traffic by 45% in downtown Newberg and 68% in downtown Dundee.

45,000 vehicles per day travel on OR 99W through downtown Newberg.

13,000 vehicles will be taken out of the daily flow in downtown Newberg with the bypass.

50% of travel time on OR 99W during peak periods will be reduced in both towns.

Newberg-Dundee Bypass

Phase 1 of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass will begin at a new signalized intersection on OR 219 and go through South Newberg into Dundee. Southwest of Dundee, the bypass will proceed west, parallel to the Dundee city limits, and cross over the Pacific Railroad tracks and OR 99W. After crossing over OR 99W, it will loop around and connect to OR 99W at a new signalized intersection. The $232 million project was funded with $192 million from the 2009 Legislature, $20 million in federal funds and $20 million in local matching funds.



Five minutes from Newberg, Dundee is a tiny town with a population of only 3,200 and few of Newberg’s advantages. It has no historic downtown, few commercial businesses and fewer jobs, no university or legendary philanthropists. Only about 25 Dundee residents have jobs in town, with the remaining workforce of around 1,225 leaving each day for jobs elsewhere.

If it doesn’t have the critical mass and growing velocity of Newberg, its plans for the future are no less hopeful. Like Newberg, it has the wine industry (most of its largest employers are wineries), natural beauty and also a chance to begin a reinvention with the new bypass. While Newberg may have McMinnville envy, Dundee sits in the shadow of Newberg, but there is a partnership there, and its role in making the bypass a reality was large.

“Dundee is part of the overall community,” Newberg mayor Andrews says. “Through Ted Crawford’s efforts, we got the bypass done.”

Crawford, Dundee’s mayor, ran for office specifically to help get the bypass built, understanding, as did others, that traffic-crushed Dundee didn’t have a chance for a more vibrant future without it.

He sees economic possibilities in destination tourism and in developing Dundee’s wine identity, along with good food. The high-end Paulée, with its hot Portland chef, opened there this year, adding to the Red Hills Market, Tina’s and Red Hills Provincial Dining.

Ecotourism is another possibility. Crawford helped spearhead the creation of the Chehalem Paddle Launch with Newberg, an effort that won the towns a regional cooperation award and finally gave Dundee access to the Willamette River. He would like to see a series of trails that connect to the river.

“Our biggest competitor is Carlton, but they don’t have the vistas or the Willamette River,” he says. “If we had a Ken Wright, we’d really get somewhere.”

Wright, founder of Ken Wright Cellars, has restored a train station in Carlton as a tasting room and retail shop, has plans for other restorations and is deeply involved in the community and in launching events. Bill Stoller of Stoller Winery is doing something similar in Dayton.

Dundee is on top of several big projects, such as a new $13 million sewage treatment plant and a $3.8 million fire station. There are plans to build sidewalks, add streetlights and repave OR 99W, its main street, now that the bypass will reduce traffic. “It will be a gigantic face-lift,” says Crawford.

“We have the geography, we have the bypass. Now we can be a stand-alone community,” says Rollin Soles, the winemaker at Argyle Winery, one of Dundee’s largest employers. “It’s a struggle to maintain commerce here. But we are here to stay.”

Robin Doussard is editor-in-chief of Oregon Business. She can be reached at [email protected].

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