If the 200 people who attended Pendleton's Economic Development Luncheon last week anticipated rabbits coming out of a hat, they left sorely disappointed.

Sometimes such events are a reminder of how the economy is booming. Sometimes not.

As the attendees found out this time around, we're on board an economy adrift in uncharted seas.

But, while the news wasn't as bright as we would have liked, if we wanted straight talk and the chance to dream about possibilities for the future, we got what we paid for - in most part right from the lips of some new faces around town who have been willing to invest millions in the future of the community.

Following on the heels of the Wednesday session was a visit by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden. They seemed to echo the words of economist Joe Cortright in suggesting things aren't going to turn around anytime soon.

As Walden noted, there's already as much talk in the nation's capital about a second stimulus bill as there is about what might come out of the first one.

Cortright did suggest, compared with the national economy, Oregon "was late to the party, didn't get as drunk, and therefore won't be as hung over." Apparently that's even more true in Eastern Oregon where we rarely experience such dramatic spikes in the economy either up or down.

He did, however, make it very clear the landscape of Oregon's employment opportunities will look dramatically different once the smoke clears.

Maybe it was a search for some ray of hope that led attendees at the luncheon to cling to some visionary ideas offered by Ted Betz, Al Plute, and Parley Pearce - three men who are actively engaged in reshaping downtown Pendleton.

All three strongly embraced the community, it's attributes, and it's future. (Although one of them admitted had he known where the economy was going he might have done things differently, that's water under the bridge. There's no turning around.)

Betz, whose family has owned property on Main Street for a century, has remodeled a number of his storefronts in the 200 block and has plans to do more when things turn around.

Pearce's primary project has been the Hamley complex at the corner of Court and Main.

Plute renovated the Brown Building, sold it, and purchased the Temple Hotel and the Bowman Building. His major focus at the moment is turning the Temple Building back into the St. George Plaza.

When asked to think outside the box in terms of what could happen on Main Street, Plute shared two ideas - one which involved reopening the entire underground and one which offered a completely new approach to parking.

The parking proposal would include converting a lane of traffic on Main Street into planters and benches located in the center of the street. Parking would be expanded on First Street with easy access to Main.

"When we drive up in front of a big box store, we get the illusion of parking right in front although we often have to walk a block to get inside," he said. "Somehow when we have to walk the same distance downtown, it feels different."

Under Plute's proposal, some buildings might have to come down in order to provide pass throughs from SW First and NW First to Main. While it would eliminate some downtown store fronts, there was agreement that Main Street currently has a large inventory.

His other proposal would have visitors and shoppers going underground where it would be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. As Plute noted, not many other towns could offer a similar experience. He even envisions a tramway to haul people around underground.

Conventional wisdom reminds us doing the same things over in the same way gets us nowhere.

Perhaps it takes hard times to get people thinking.

As we were reminded last week, hard times are here.

The trick now is to keep thinking.

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