Resident: Downtown Pasco needs to be spruced up

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJune 13, 2014 

Liberty Theater Roof

November 25, 2013 - Construction workers install wooden roof trusses last week at the former Liberty Theater in downtown Pasco.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Downtown Pasco needs to upgrade its aging infrastructure before it can attract new apartments, stores and restaurants, a resident told the city council this week.

Most of the buildings were constructed between 1940-60, said Felix Vargas, a retired diplomat and Army officer.

"You have plumbing issues inside," he said. "You have serious electrical problems."

Vargas was commenting on a five-year work plan released last week by the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, which hopes to land "mixed-use" residential and commercial spaces to lure young professionals.

The area already has a problem with homeless residents, something Vargas said would only be compounded when the Union Gospel Mission reaches its $8.9 million goal to build a new men's facility and community outreach center.

"That's going to have an obvious impact to the community, and it's going to work against the goals to revitalize downtown," Vargas told the Herald. "It's not just my thought, it's what the business owners say."

Downtown also needs enhanced security, Vargas said. The area is often vandalized in broad daylight.

"Those are the issues people want to talk about, not this pie in the sky plan," he said.

The downtown development authority became a public corporation in May 2011. Pasco created the group in 2010 because council members felt the volunteer-run Pasco Downtown Development Association wasn't making enough progress.

Mike Miller, the authority's board president, said progress is being made. He cited the Cinco de Mayo events in May, restarting the Fiery Foods Festival -- which will bring former American Idol winner Lee DeWyze to Pasco in September -- and a Passport to Pasco program that rewards volunteers.

"These are things that are gaining great traction and headway in the community," Miller said.

Dealing with downtown problems and bringing in new development go hand-in-hand, Miller said.

"It's kind of like the chicken versus the egg -- which one do you want to have first?" he asked.

Mayor Matt Watkins told Vargas at Tuesday's meeting that business owners interested in helping should apply to join the downtown development authority's board, which only has seven of nine positions filled.

"The DPDA is the mechanism that should be used to affect change in the downtown area," he said.

But the language barrier keeps some Spanish-speaking business owners from joining the board, Vargas said.

"When you get a Spanish-speaking executive director, I think they will be fully interested in being involved," he said.

Executive Director Michael Goins and former director Amy Kuchler do not speak Spanish, but Miller said the board has three bilingual members who could translate for Spanish speakers.

"DPDA is not a Hispanic group," Miller said. "It is a group of people concerned about how we can best help the city to grow its business. A lot of those businesses are Hispanic, so we need to be sensitive to that."

Everyone will need to work together to improve the cultural issues downtown, Councilman Al Yenney said. He recalled a recent visit to a restaurant where the menu didn't have any English on it.

"How does that restaurant try to bring me in as a customer?" he asked. "To be integrated and to prosper, I think you need to address those things."

Yenney also defended the mission, saying it would not allow anyone in who has been drinking.

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

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