Affordable housing, green space and places to showcase events. That’s what local residents want for downtown Yakima.
They offered their views Thursday night at a public meeting, where more than 150 people gathered at the Howard Johnson Plaza hotel in Yakima. Their feedback will help provide the foundation for a comprehensive plan under development for downtown.
While downtown’s vitality has improved, it’s still a far cry from the 1990s, when the Yakima Mall and Nordstrom were going strong.
City leaders have discussed revitalization for a long time, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the City Council committed to creating and implementing a long-term plan to bring shoppers, merchants and residents back to the urban core.
Thursday’s meeting was a first step in realizing that plan. The goal was to gather information on the key issues and opportunities for downtown, said George Crandall, principal for Crandall Arambula, the Portland-based firm hired to draft a master plan for downtown Yakima.
“We can quantify how many people are interested in certain issues,” Crandall said.
Crandall Arambula will work with Thomas Consulting of Vancouver, British Columbia, which will focus on the retail aspect of downtown development.
Crandall and Don Arambula, another principal with the firm, presented an outline of a successful downtown plan that would include recommendations for design standards, public parks, public art, a permanent home for the farmers market, downtown parking, the city’s historic trolley and foot and bicycle traffic, among other things.
One key component of success is having a project to serve as a “game changer.” For many towns, that has been publicly funded park squares or plazas, which generate private investment and momentum.
For example, a park area in downtown Medford, Ore., was seeded with $10 million in public funds but generated $145 million in private investment.
“You want to see substantive momentum in the first five years,” Crandall said.
The presentation also included a run-through of the current status of downtown Yakima. The firm noted several positives, including historic buildings and wide sidewalks.
However, there are areas of concern, including too much traffic in key parts of the downtown core, and wide roads, like Yakima Avenue, that can be a hindrance to pedestrians. The lack of green space was another concern of the consultants, who reluctantly counted a landscaped median as such.
However, representatives from Crandall Arambula believe those issues can be resolved under the plan.
“We think (downtown Yakima) has terrific potential,” Crandall said after the firm’s presentation. “We look forward to ... capitalizing on that potential.”
After the presentation, attendees were given time to discuss issues, concerns and ideas, which were presented to the audience and the consultants.
One idea that received a good response came from 18-year-old Citlaly Arellano, a senior at Davis High School.
Arellano and Sally Tonkin, a photography teacher at Davis, have been brainstorming ideas for downtown. That led to Arellano’s idea for a museum for Latino arts and culture.
The idea generated much applause.
Arellano said she saw the meeting as a key opportunity to network with other community members and present her idea.
The museum, she said, would provide a “way to inform people what we are and where we came from.”
Crandall Arambula will continue collecting feedback in the coming weeks. A second meeting, where the firm will present recommendations, will be scheduled in about six weeks.
Sean Hawkins, economic development manager for the city of Yakima, said he was pleased with the turnout.
While there have been plans for downtown, including one from the Committee for Downtown Yakima, where he previously worked, they were limited.
Hawkins said Thursday’s meeting gave him a taste of what a comprehensive downtown plan could be.
“You learn a lot of the logic of what makes for a successful downtown,” Hawkins said.
Crandall Arambula received a $115,000 contract to draft a master plan. The company’s final draft must also include a strategy for implementing the plan, which has to be sent to the city for approval by the end of November.
Thomas Consultants was given a $32,000 contract to devise a strategy for growing downtown Yakima’s retail sector. That will be used in the master plan.
While the plan won’t be finished until later this year, city officials have already acted on some elements that they expect to be in the final version. Those efforts include launching two new summer concert series and supporting a weekday farmers market.
Those early, concrete steps give credibility to the city’s commitment to following through on the finished product, which will be a key piece of city officials’ pitch to retailers considering a move into the area, Hawkins said.
• Herald-Republic reporter Dan Catchpole contributed to this report.
• Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or at email@example.com.