Dalles, Oregon

March 26, 2024

Dalles, Oregon

A Delicate Balance of Growth, Culture, and Nature


Historic charm, natural beauty, and innovative partnership shape a future of prosperity and community vibrancy.

Tucked away in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, The City of The Dalles is a vibrant picture of the beauty and dynamism of Oregon. Known for its breathtaking landscapes, the city offers an unmatched blend of natural beauty and historic charm, making it a unique place to live and work. With a climate that marries the atmospheric conditions of the Oregon coast with the distinct seasons of the Midwest, The Dalles provides a living experience that is as diverse as its population. At the core of this community’s pride is its historic downtown, a living museum that echoes the city’s rich past while embracing the future through continuous revitalization efforts.

Mayor Richard Mays, serving his fifth year in office with three more to go, shares his insights on what makes The Dalles not just a place to live but thrive. Having experienced life in the Midwest and the Oregon coast before settling in The Dalles, Mayor Mays brings a unique perspective on the city’s allure. “Oregon is an extraordinary place,” he begins, setting the tone for a conversation filled with admiration and pride for his city. The Mayor emphasizes the primary asset of The Dalles as its “surroundings, the weather, the atmosphere, the ambiance,” elements that create a living environment that is hard to replicate elsewhere.

A Blend of History and Innovation

Urban renewal and downtown revitalization efforts have become a cornerstone of community development in The Dalles, a city where the past seamlessly weaves into the future. Mayor Mays, with a note of modesty, attributes the success of downtown revitalization not solely to his tenure but acknowledges the groundwork laid by predecessors and the community’s collective effort.

“Some of this I can take credit for, and a lot of it I can’t,” he admits, highlighting the continuity of vision that has shaped The Dalles. The Muralfest, a standout initiative, brought together hundreds of artists from around the globe, decorating the city with 17 new murals that celebrate its storied history. This event embellished the urban landscape and underscored the city’s growing reputation as a cultural hub.

The Granada Theater’s restoration, the inception of the Neon Sign Museum, and the historic Jantzen Beach Carousel’s forthcoming installation exemplify how historical artifacts can breathe new life into urban centers, drawing visitors and enhancing local culture.

Mayor Mays elaborates on the broader impacts of these projects, including the marine terminal that welcomes cruise ships and their passengers to explore The Dalles’ rich offerings. Each attraction brings global visitors, from the Neon Sign Museum to the Fort Dalles Museum and the Discovery Center, bolstering the local economy and community pride.

Fostering Urban Connectivity and Community Vitality

The ambitious urban renewal endeavors of The Dalles are not confined to beautification and historic preservation alone. These efforts extend into strategic infrastructural enhancements and development projects to foster connectivity, community vitality, and a more inclusive urban environment. Matthew Klebes, City Manager, offers a detailed account of the streetscape project, which has transformed Second Street into a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare.

“Widening the sidewalks, putting in brick pavers, historic period lighting, benches, trash cans,” he outlines, pointing to the thoughtful inclusion of amenities that encourage foot traffic and leisurely exploration of the downtown area. Introducing a roundabout and several murals further enriches the streetscape, marrying functionality with aesthetic appeal.

The planned enhancements for First Street promise to extend these improvements, boosting visibility from the interstate and serving as a pivotal connector to the marine terminal and the scenic Riverfront Trail. “It’ll be a great improvement visibility-wise, from the interstate for our downtown,” Klebes anticipates, underscoring the project’s dual role in augmenting urban appeal and stimulating private development.

A downtown mixed-use apartment complex, with over 100 new units, is a cornerstone of The Dalles’ urban renewal strategy, poised to help meet the community’s long-standing need for housing as well as foster private investment in the downtown. This venture is complemented by a new downtown grocery store as well as new Wasco County offices. The proximity of these residential spaces to the grocery store underscores a holistic approach to urban living, where convenience and quality of life are paramount.


Championing Local Businesses

In The Dalles, where urban renewal intertwines with economic vitality, the Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce is pivotal in nurturing the local business ecosystem. Under the leadership of Lisa Farquharson, the Chamber’s efforts extend far beyond conventional support, diving into innovative strategies and robust partnerships to ensure the prosperity and sustainability of the local business community.

Farquharson recounts the intensified efforts of the Chamber over the past challenging years, emphasizing the expanded support mechanisms put in place to buoy local enterprises. “We provided extra training around the clock,” she recalls, illustrating the Chamber’s proactive stance in equipping businesses with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the shifting regulatory and operational landscapes. This support ranged from marketing and advertising assistance to guidance on new ordinances, taxes, and fees, ensuring businesses remained compliant and competitive.

The symbiotic relationship between the Chamber and the city has been instrumental in amplifying the reach and impact of local businesses. Farquharson shares, “We’ve partnered with the city for many years,” a collaboration that has significantly benefited the tourism sector, a vital driver of the local economy. Innovative marketing campaigns, like the recent partnership with a Portland TV station to spotlight local businesses, have directly translated into increased interest and visitation, demonstrating the power of strategic storytelling and promotion.

Navigating Growth within Scenic Constraints

As The Dalles progresses, the city finds itself at a crossroads, balancing preserving its breathtaking natural beauty with the ambition to foster economic growth and diversification. This delicate equilibrium poses unique challenges and opportunities for urban development and economic expansion. City Manager Klebes explains the intricacies of managing growth within the dual constraints of the national scenic area designation and Oregon’s urban growth boundaries.

“We’re in a stunning and wonderful area,” he begins, acknowledging the allure of The Dalles’ setting. However, this beauty comes with limitations on expansion, a factor that significantly influences the city’s development strategy. The urban growth boundaries, designed to curb sprawl and protect the area’s natural assets, also restrict the availability of land for industrial and commercial use. This situation, as Klebes notes, is “a blessing and a curse.”

The city’s innovative approach to these challenges includes a robust brownfield program supported by substantial funding from the EPA. This initiative aims to rehabilitate underutilized or contaminated properties, transforming them into productive assets within the urban fabric. “It encourages us to make the best and highest use of our land,” Klebes explains, highlighting the program’s role in promoting density and sustainability.

Infrastructure Innovations

The Dalles, amidst its picturesque setting and commitment to sustainable urban development, is also at the forefront of significant infrastructure advancements. Mayor Mays sheds light on a series of transformative infrastructure projects that have enhanced the city’s capabilities and attracted substantial investments.

“Over the last 18 years, we have been able to attract three Google data centers here,” he states, underlining the strategic negotiations that brought these developments to fruition. The allure of The Dalles for such a tech giant stems from a combination of factors, including the availability of fiber optics, affordable energy, and a reliable water supply—elements critical to the operation of data centers.

As the Mayor suggests, the fiber infrastructure is a critical asset, enticing Google’s initial interest and subsequent expansions in the city. This technological backbone has facilitated not just Google’s operations but has also supported broader community benefits, including funding for a new housing complex and skill center at the Columbia Gorge Community College, courtesy, in part, of the revenue generated from these deals.

Google’s contributions extend beyond the digital realm, impacting the city’s physical infrastructure. As part of its agreement to establish two new data centers, Google is investing approximately $28 million in local infrastructure enhancements. This investment supports Google’s operations and significantly benefits the city’s overall infrastructure, particularly in enhancing the water supply system.


Embracing the Great Outdoors

Located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, The Dalles offers a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts due to an abundance of recreational activities that leverage the area’s natural beauty and geographic diversity.

Farquharson describes the outdoor recreational offerings that define The Dalles’ appeal with evident enthusiasm. She notes the popularity of cycling, with designated routes for paved and gravel riding, catering to cyclists of all preferences. The annual gravel grinding event underscores the area’s reputation as a cycling haven. The Riverfront Trail, a jewel in the city’s recreational crown, offers miles of scenic paths for walking, biking, and other non-motorized activities along the picturesque Columbia River.

Fishing is a significant draw, with Farquharson detailing the vibrant fishery that attracts locals and visitors year-round. Introducing a new bass tournament is a testament to the area’s rich aquatic resources and growing reputation as a fishing destination. Water sports, including kayaking, paddleboarding, and windsurfing, thrive here, thanks in part to the river’s conducive conditions and the expertise of local enthusiasts.

Her passionate portrayal of life in The Dalles captures the essence of its attraction: “We feel like we’ve got a little slice of heaven right here,” Farquharson states, encapsulating the sentiment that both residents and visitors share about this “gorge-ous” locale. The strategic promotion of these outdoor activities, coupled with efforts to sustain and enhance access to the natural environment, ensures that The Dalles remains a place to visit and a destination to experience and cherish.

Priorities and Partnerships in The Dalles

As The Dalles strides into a new era of development and prosperity, the city’s leadership is zeroed in on transformative projects and strategic partnerships that promise to redefine its urban and economic landscape. Mayor Mays articulates a vision that is both ambitious and reflective of a deep understanding of the city’s potential and historical significance.

“Downtown redevelopment is a cornerstone of my efforts,” he declares, underscoring his dedication to projects that promise to invigorate the city’s core. The planned plaza and the redevelopment of a critical downtown corner are poised to transform the urban fabric, integrating mixed-use spaces seamlessly blending retail, housing, and public areas.

City manager Klebes echoes the mayor’s sentiments, emphasizing the integral role of downtown revitalization in the broader narrative of The Dalles’ growth. His journey from an AmeriCorps volunteer focused on downtown revitalization to his current role illustrates a personal and professional commitment to this cause. “Downtown is kind of the living room of a community,” Klebes notes, articulating a vision where the downtown area reflects and amplifies the community’s vibrancy and cohesiveness. While downtown is a clear priority, the City’s efforts do not end at its borders. The city is also exploring a Westside area planning effort to identify and supports the needs of both residential constituents and commercial ventures.

In planning the future of The Dalles, Mayor Mays, Klebes, and their partners are weaving a vision that balances preserving historical identity with pursuing modernization and growth. The communities focus on downtown revitalization, strategic partnerships, and the judicious use of resources reflects a nuanced understanding of urban development. Through these initiatives, The Dalles is preparing for its next chapter of growth and reinforcing its role as a central hub of commerce, culture, and community life in the Columbia River Gorge.


The City of Dalles

What: A city celebrated for its strategic urban renewal efforts, infrastructure advancements, and the promotion of outdoor activities and history

Where: The Dalles, Oregon

Website: https://www.thedalles.org/


Northern Wasco County PUD – www.nwascopud.org

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