The city of Yakima is starting work on a plan for the retail development of downtown.
The City Council is expected to get a first look at the framework of that plan — which would include a master plan for overall development and improving public safety — next month.
City Manager Tony O’Rourke said at the council’s Thursday study session that staff would begin work on the plan, with further review by council members.
O’Rourke’s remarks followed a presentation by Ian Thomas, a retail planning consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia, who has international experience in revitalizing shopping centers and downtowns.
Thomas told the council that the city needs to decide what its hallmarks are and highlight those in deciding how to design and promote downtown to visitors and prospective businesses.
Thomas, whose firm has worked in 45 countries, said the size of the city doesn’t matter. A good master plan sets the foundation for attracting the right businesses.
“Whether it’s New York or Yakima, the principles are the same,” Thomas said in an interview after the council meeting.
While he made no firm proposals for Yakima, Thomas mentioned more green space and perhaps trees in the Yakima Avenue median as concepts that have worked elsewhere. People need to be comfortable in downtown and they need to feel as if they can walk from one attraction to another.
“You are the center of town, so make sure you behave accordingly,” he said.
The council reacted positively to his approach, but took no action. O’Rourke said the city paid $4,000 to bring Thomas to town; he also made a presentation Thursday morning to local business representatives.
While acknowledging there are no guaranteed outcomes, Thomas said a good plan could yield success in 10 to 15 years.
The council in recent months has danced around the topic of development standards for downtown, with Tuesday’s discussion suggesting that the council was willing to look in that direction.
The topic was sparked most recently by a proposal, subsequently dropped, to place a Starbucks drive-thru at a Yakima Avenue intersection.
Dave Ettl said the master plan seemed like a good idea, even though there have been reservations among some council members about telling property owners what to do.
“We are going to be discovering the best us we are, and that is what is going to make us successful.”
The council also discussed the need to reinforce the idea that crime in Yakima isn’t as bad as the city’s stereotype suggests. As council members and other observers have said, Yakima seems to be its own worst cheerleader at times. One suggestion mentioned was an advertising campaign to show that Yakima is better than its sometimes negative perception.
• Mark Morey can be reached at 509-577-7671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.