From eliminating parking on Main Street to reopening the entire underground for shopping, Al Plute made it clear visioning what to do in downtown Pendleton means thinking big.
Plute, along with Parley Pearce and Ted Betz have invested millions separately in downtown Pendleton over the last four years. Pearce and Blair Woodfield own Hamley's, Plute's latest project is renovating the St. George Hotel and Betz has recently finished a facade restoration on the downtown buildings his family has owned for more than a hundred years.
Plute also owns the Bowman Building which fronts on Fraser Avenue near his hotel.
The trio handled questions during a panel discussion at the Pendleton economic outlook luncheon Wednesday, which drew a record crowd of about 200. They shared their reasons why they chose to invest in Pendleton, where it is now and what the community needs to do. And Plute flung open the door to just what downtown Pendleton could be.
Pearce said when he came here four years ago, Pendleton was "a little sleepy" and wasn't taking advantage of what it had here - a good downtown, a rich history and culture and a good climate. Pendleton is a community with plenty of opportunity, he said, and is akin to where Walla Walla was about 20 years ago. Pearce said Pendleton can grow and thrive, just as its neighbor to the north has.
Plute seemed to echo that sentiment. Pendleton is ready to grow, he said, but the community also needs to decide just what it wants to be.
"You're in the beginning stage, you're at a good level," Plute said. "There's no other place to go but up."
Pendleton has a combination of tourism and retail business and needs to address questions of livability, Betz said, and it's hard to get a bead on just what people here want. That's the central question Pendleton needs to ask and answer, he said.
"What we need?" he asked rhetorically in response to a question. "I'm not sure, and I wish there were a way to find out."
When one person asked how Pendleton should address downtown parking, Plute offered a vision that revamped all of downtown.
Change Main Street to one lane each way, he said, with a median strip complete with grass, trees and benches. And eliminate all parking on Main and create four down parking lots, one at each corner of Main Street.
"Focus more of the parking on First with access to Main," he added. "Some buildings might have to come down to provide that access, but that's feasible."
Then, he said, Pendleton should reopen the entire underground for tourism and shopping, run an electric trolley underground as well and connect the underground to the street.
If Pendleton wanted a big marketing tool and something to attract businesses here, that would work, Plute said.