It’s going to take a while to get used to that empty lot on Riverside Avenue in Winthrop where the old house that was most recently home to Arrowleaf Bistro once stood. It’s a startling gap in a familiar streetscape, likely to surprise people who haven’t visited in some time. After the house was razed, the wreckage hauled away and the basement filled in, what’s left is a leveled expanse of dirt — and a view toward the Chewuch River.
It’s that connection between downtown and the river, something many folks in Winthrop have dreamed about for a long time, that makes the idea of an easily accessible public park appealing.
The parcel was purchased by Jim and Gaye Pigott, owners of the Moccasin Lake Ranch, through an agreement with the Town of Winthrop. The Pigotts will pay for the land and all the improvements necessary to build an inviting park, and then donate it to the town. The civic-minded Pigotts, who are among the valley’s most consistent benefactors, want to make the park a gift to the community.
As conceived, the park will be a nicely landscaped, attractive place to take a break from the boardwalks, rest a bit, have a chat, and maybe finish that ice cream cone with a minimum of fuss. It’s likely to become a landmark in its own right — “I’ll meet you in the park” might be a handy escape clause for men who get antsy shopping — and add to the town’s ambience. And it will open up an all-too-rare vista to the river.
Are there down sides to losing the building? Perhaps. It was old, well-used and had its own history to tell, but the costs of relocating it were likely prohibitive. It won’t be replaced by another business, as was the run-down, long-empty Grubstake & Co. building was when the Cascades Outdoor Store opened.
Winthrop is meant to be a pedestrian-friendly town with the main purpose, bluntly put, of generating lots of commerce for Riverside Avenue businesses. More storefronts of any kind, be it retail or food and drink, are part of the success formula. Critical mass is necessary to keep people hanging around, once they’re charmed into staying a while by the Western motif.
That’s why the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, not a notably anti-park organization, raised concerns when the idea for a park was first proposed. The chamber argued that the Town Council should consider the potential impact of losing a business location, and allow more time for the public to offer comments. Anyone can have a park, the chamber said, but Winthrop is something special. As well, any retail tax revenues generated by the property would be lost.
The council listened, considered and decided that on balance, the park proposal’s benefits outweighed the risks.
I think the council did the right thing. The old house’s future as a storefront business was already in doubt. Former owners Kyrie and Kathleen Jardin had indicated that they didn’t intend to seek a business tenant if the Pigotts didn’t buy the lot.
Downtown Winthrop essentially turned its back on the river decades ago, perhaps because the Chewuch couldn’t be counted on to demurely stay within its banks. With the proposed Riverwalk system gaining some traction, and a new park taking form by this fall, the town’s reintroduction to the river will make Winthrop an even more interesting place and open up even more possibilities.