YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima City Council wants staff to develop a two-year plan for revitalizing North First Street, but isn’t so sure how to address the funding hurdles that presents.
Carrying out the construction of upgrades to North First Street — which tentatively include medians, tree-lined sidewalks, new curbs and storm gutters — is projected to cost $11 million. The city has already secured $3 million for the project mostly in grants, but to finish the project in two years, the city would likely need to incur an $8 million bond debt.
The improvements would stretch from the highway interchange at the north end of the street, south to the intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and were originally slated to take place in phases over six years beginning in 2015.
But at Tuesday night’s council meeting, City Manager Tony O’Rourke said commuters are feeling “construction fatigue” in that area following years of work done on nearby underpasses for Lincoln Avenue and MLK Boulevard.
Six more years of construction could ultimately harm revitalization efforts, O’Rourke said. But, according to a staff memo to the council, the city would most likely be able to secure grant funding for the entire project on that time frame.
Some council members, including Kathy Coffey and Rick Ensey, expressed reservations over issuing bond debt to finish the project. Coffey has said repeatedly at other meetings that she is concerned the city could corner itself if it amasses too much bond debt and is caught off guard by another economic recession.
“Someone has to step up to the plate and someone has to be held responsible if we come up short,” Coffey said.
But the five council members in attendance, with Dave Ettl and Thomas Dittmar absent, all voted to direct staff to come up with a proposal for how to fund and construct the project in two years.
“It’s an economic area that would just blossom, and have more than just retail,” Councilman Bill Lover said. “It’s going to bring in other types of businesses we really need in this community.”
One possible but unlikely option to fund the project in two years would be if the city wins a highly competitive application process for a $27 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant. The city has an application pending with the department’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, but O’Rourke said about 4 percent of applicants are awarded funds.
The city also approved a $58,850 contract with Seattle-based BDS Planning and Urban Design to conduct a study of locations for a potential public market with rental spaces that could accommodate a variety of businesses.
Most of the funding for that study — $40,000 — comes from a Yakima County economic development grant program.
The public market concept was originally pitched last year by city staff and consultants as part of the overall plan for downtown revitalization.
The North First Street project was the only issue of lengthy debate at Tuesday night’s meeting, where an ordinance to impose new fees on utilities that excavate in public right-of-way was tabled due to the absence of two council members.