Residents tell Pasco council they want higher priority on improving downtown

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldMay 12, 2014 

Residents told the Pasco City Council on Monday that it needs to make downtown revitalization a higher priority.

Felix Vargas told the council that its No. 1 goal of attracting more industrial development was a good one, but it must put a higher priority on improving downtown, citing a recent Herald editorial.

He suggested improvements to Peanuts Park, which has a fountain that hasn't run in years and is frequented by transients. The city also should try to expand the international flavor of the area.

"How about a couple restaurants that aren't just Hispanic?" he said. "Maybe a couple developers looking to bring in a boutique shop, maybe an antique shop or two."

The council developed a list of goals at its biennial retreat last month, and is scheduled to approve the list next week.

Mayor Matt Watkins told Vargas that the council included among its goals completing a design for turning Lewis and Clark streets into a one-way couplet downtown, with the idea of eventually having the streets lead into a new overpass east over the railroad tracks. He said the council sets goals that are achievable within two years.

Vargas, a farm labor advocate and retired diplomat, said the council should be more involved with the Downtown Pasco Development Authority.

Councilman Saul Martinez said the development authority was created because downtown business owners felt too much pressure from the city.

"They wanted to make decisions on their own," he said.

The community forums leading up to the council retreat were lightly attended, Councilman Al Yenney told Vargas. Those forums were used to collect ideas for the goals.

"We need people like you to get the word out," he said.

Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck said that he heads the board of the Columbia Regional Economic Development Investment Trust, which helps business owners find money to grow. He said the board, which is overseen by the Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, could help downtown businesses.

"It's a great avenue for people who can't get conventional funding," he said.

Carl Holder, a Pasco energy consultant, told the council that it needs to make a higher priority of removing an old rail spur that now serves one customer. He suggested working closely with BNSF Railway Co.

"It would open up a tremendous area of development, which would connect downtown Pasco with the port and the cable bridge," he said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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