A plan to improve downtown and boost retail sales was enthusiastically endorsed by the Yakima City Council on Tuesday night.
“I say it’s about time,” said Councilwoman Kathy Coffey, the retired chief executive of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. “I think it’s exciting and refreshing to look at something that is going to make a huge difference in our community.”
The six-point action plan creates a framework for developing a master plan and a related retail development plan for downtown.
As Councilman Dave Ettl said, it’s a plan to come up with a plan.
Ettl said he hoped that a wide range of interests — from council members to business owners and others — would be involved in developing the city’s approach.
He described it as a way for Yakima to reinvent itself.
“That’s the ultimate mission,” he said. “It’s our city, to be made our way.”
The council unanimously voted for city staff to set the process in motion by asking consultants for bids to oversee the planning process for both the master plan and the retail development plan. City Manager Tony O’Rourke requested $130,000 to cover those consulting services.
The master plan would set design standards for downtown that are intended to give prospective retailers a sense of the environment they would be working in.
O’Rourke said successfully revitalized downtowns typically use master plans.
“Developers want predictability about what downtown will look like,” O’Rourke said.
The retail plan will consolidate information about the Yakima market that is intended to entice retailers to land here.
Under O’Rourke’s proposal, the council will later study proposed event guidelines that would govern how events coordinated by the city or other entities would be run. In a related move, the city plans to make a section of Fourth Street south of Yakima into a dedicated area for downtown events.
The plan also focuses on dispelling perceptions that downtown is unsafe. Gang officers will be addressing offenses in that area, and a detective will be tasked to track crime trends in the area so they can be quickly addressed.
“It’s nice to be part of something that will help our city look and feel better in the future,” Councilwoman Sara Bristol said.
The planning process is expected to take place over the next two years.
In another unanimous vote, the council approved the 2013 budget.
The tax-supported general fund is projected at about $62 million, up a little more than 2 percent over 2012.
The largest single savings came from adjusting how the city calculates its employee vacancy rate, allowing that money to be dedicated to other uses.
The budget includes adding several gang officers, restoring city fire inspections, funding repairs for city streets and starting an in-house medical clinic for employees.
Council members noted that managers were taking a pay freeze and said the budget process seemed more clear under O’Rourke’s administration than in past years.
“I felt informed yet did not have to sit through endless, mind-numbing meetings, so I appreciate that,” Councilman Rick Ensey said.
• Mark Morey can be reached at 509-577-7671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.