Pasco revitalization may come with price

PASCO — Pasco's new plan to revitalize its downtown may mean the end of a longtime volunteer group of business owners and leaders.

The Pasco Downtown Development Association, which has led downtown efforts for two decades, likely would dissolve as a result of the city creating a public corporation to spearhead downtown efforts, city staff told Pasco City Council members on Monday.

The council made finding the best way to launch an economic boost in downtown one of its goals for 2010-11. In the past, the city has taken a hands-off approach.

Pasco is considering a public development authority, where the council would determine the charter, appoint board members and vote on the corporation's suggested plan of action.

Mayor Matt Watkins described creating the corporation as "pushing the reset button" on downtown efforts. The city can't continue with the status quo, he said.

Dennis Gisi, president of the Pasco Downtown Development Association, said the association is disappointed with the city's lack of support.

The city's creation of a public corporation would basically put the association out of business, Gisi said during a Monday night phone interview.

The association plans to put the question of dissolution to its members Nov. 30, he said. Board members anticipate the city will have decided about the corporation by then.

An advisory committee of downtown stakeholders and organizations recommended that Pasco create the public corporation, said Rick White, city community and economic development director.

The downtown development association, which was part of the committee, did not endorse the plan.

Gisi said the association has questions about the charter and isn't sure if the corporation would put on downtown events like the Fiery Foods Fest and operate the facade improvement program for downtown businesses like the association does.

This year the Fiery Foods Fest was canceled because of the difficulty in finding volunteers, the loss of a large sponsor and increasing competition among events on the same September weekend.

The proposed public corporation would cost the city about $94,000 a year, including an annual salary of $65,000 for a director.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield suggested the city use $60,000 from its industrial development fund.

The rest would come from operating the Pasco Farmers Market and Pasco Specialty Kitchen, which would bring in about $34,000, White said.

The specialty kitchen and farmers market are the downtown development association's main sources of revenue, Gisi said.

The association has a management contract with the city for the specialty kitchen, and if Pasco doesn't renew it, the proposed corporation could take that over, he said.

However, the farmers market belongs to the association, Gisi said. Pasco can't just take it over; the organization's members would have to agree to give the market to the city, he said.

Councilman Saul Martinez, who recently became the council's liaison for the association, said it seems like the association members kept hitting road blocks that prevented progress.

Martinez, who favors creating a public corporation, said, "I think it will give the tools and the ability for us to see progress a little quicker."

The downtown development association lacks strong downtown business and property owner participation, Crutchfield said. The city-formed corporation would create a membership structure to involve businesses, he said.

But Gisi said the downtown development association has been effective. It's a lack of partnership and cooperation from the city that has caused the volunteer group to struggle, he said.

Gisi said his board feels the city wanted control of downtown efforts. The association is accountable to downtown business and property owners, not the city, he said.

Pasco will see a return on the investment in the corporation, Martinez said. Having a paid director will allow more activities to be organized downtown, which would provide incentives for business owners to improve their property.

Gisi agreed a lot could be accomplished with a paid, full-time director. That's why he said he suggested the city consider paying for a director for the downtown development association.

City staff will bring the proposal back to city council in about four weeks. City staff need time to meet with the downtown association, Crutchfield said.

* Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com