Voters in Yakima gave a clear message about a plaza in downtown Yakima on Tuesday, and the message was no.
The plaza, proposed for a city parking lot west of The Capitol Theatre, was soundly defeated with 69.7 percent no votes to 30.3 percent yes, or 7,391 votes to 3,214.
“The important thing is that it’s such a clear and decisive message from the voters,” said Bruce Smith, owner of Yakima Valley Publishing, who has been a strong opponent of the plaza project. “I don’t see how it’s possible for the City Council to do anything but honor the will of the people and cancel the plaza.”
The council agreed to have a public vote earlier this year in hopes that a group of downtown business and property owners who oppose the plaza would drop a lawsuit against the city. The group, which includes Smith, Michael Snyder and Kathi Mercy, agreed to drop the lawsuit if there was a public vote and the council abided by the results.
The plaza is a $12 million project that aims to help revitalize downtown. The city spent $1.5 million to pay for the planning and pre- construction phase of the development and had planned to spend another $1.5 million. The remainder of the project’s cost — nearly $10 million — came from community donations. Organizers said donations will go back to donors if the project does not happen.
Plaza supporters said they were “disappointed” in the results, but said they weren’t going to give up on solutions to help the city improve its economic prospects.
Now that the vote has passed, the committee will sit down and discuss what to do next, said Patrick Smith, co-owner of Loftus Ranches and a member of a committee that backed the plaza. He is not related to Bruce Smith.
“We’re not a single-issue group,” he said. “We are a group that wants to enact change for Yakima.”
In contrast, Bruce Smith said the opposition centered on ending what he said was a “poorly planned project” that lacked the consensus of the people. Smith doesn’t anticipate the coalition would continue now that it has accomplished its goal.
The plaza has been divisive from the moment it was proposed back in 2012 as part the city’s downtown development efforts. Yakima City Council members have been spilt, as have members of the community, as the debate in the months leading up to the election showed. Opponents voiced concerns about access to convenient parking, operation costs and safety.
Those in support of the project said it would spur economic area development to the downtown core and provide much-desired green space and public gathering space in the downtown area.
“The city needs a strong economy. The city has a revenue crisis,” said Casey Corr, another plaza supporter. “These problems don’t go away with that vote.”
When asked what the city should do to improve downtown Yakima, Bruce Smith said the question was an attempt by plaza supporters to divert from the issue at hand. “It’s the diversion on their part to get away from the fact that the public rejected their plan,” he said.
City Council members said in August they will follow the outcome of the vote.
This story was updated to include quotes and additional background.