Downtown Hermiston is a mess right now — there’s no denying it.
The maze of traffic cones that has spilled over onto Main Street and Gladys Avenue is enough to turn a less daring driver away. Combined with the unrelated senior center construction site on Ridgeway Avenue marked by a foreboding “Closed to Thru Traffic” sign and it might seem you’re not welcome downtown.
It’s nothing personal. And if you’re willing to brave the labyrinth you’ll find city services and businesses are more or less running as usual.
But that’s the cost of change. The city has undertaken two major projects in the immediate area around city hall that have the potential to transform the area.
It’s the correct priority for the city. For all the added jobs and residents and new homes, the town’s core hasn’t seen the kind of attention it deserves. There are some great cornerstone businesses downtown, but other storefronts have been revolving doors, unable to attract enough foot traffic to stay viable.
Any town can expect some churn, but a walkable, shop-able, diverse Main Street would be a huge asset to Hermiston.
A festival street and a senior center — which will be opened for broader public use in five years — are good ways to increase that foot traffic. A healthy revival of the Union Club on the corner of Main and Second Street is another way.
The city’s long-term decisions in regards to city hall and the recently rebranded community center just a few blocks to the north will also factor in, as will development along the nearby train tracks. As city leaders plot and entrepreneurs plan, it’s not hard to imagine a corridor stretching along Second Street from Highway 395 to the Harkenrider Center and library.
Highway 395 is an unfortunate barrier in the long term, creating a disconnect between assets like McKenzie Park and Hermiston High School and Main Street, but that’s a problem for another day.
It takes a town like Hermiston to make a 35-year-old feel like an old-timer. Out with my 6-year-old daughter at Lawan’s Thai Garden, I was reminiscing about the old Armand Larive Middle School, the site of many of the athletic activities of my youth, now marked only by an archway. Out the other window of the restaurant is the new Holiday Inn Express, new enough that she vaguely remembers watching its construction. We talked about the old pool at the high school and the new one by the Butte.
I also told her that when I was growing up here, there was no Thai food in town (at least that I was aware of). She was as shocked by that as anything, as living in a city with Thai food is unthinkable to her palette.
Of course she thinks I’m an old-timer. But I’m glad she’s getting a front row seat to a growing town in the same way I did.
Daniel Wattenburger is a contributing editor to the Hermiston Herald.