New group will shape downtown Pasco

The volunteer group of Pasco business owners and leaders who have tried to encourage a vibrant downtown will continue their work while the city sets up a new corporation to take over their job.

The Pasco City Council voted 5-1 Monday to create a Downtown Pasco Development Authority to give the downtown area an economic boost and spearhead development efforts. The council next will appoint nine board members to the group and approve the corporation's suggested plan of action.

Despite the decision, Rhonda Alberts, a Pasco Downtown Development Association board member since 1996, said her group plans to continue its work, including the facade program, while the city sets up its new corporation.

The council has said that the association wasn't making fast enough progress in its mission to improve Pasco's downtown.

Alberts said the association doesn't intend to compete with the new corporation but it does intend to continue with the Pasco Farmers Market and improve the Fiery Foods Festival, which was canceled this year to give the organization a chance to redesign it.

Chris Martinson, an association board member of six years, said the new corporation's structure is hierarchical and doesn't seem like the best way to get business owners involved.

Martinson agreed it's unfortunate that the downtown development association has not made a lot of headway in the last six years. He described the relationship between the city and association as "contentious."

The downtown has cultural, language, trust and socio-economic issues, Martinson said. It's going to take a group of forward thinkers to work on those issues and revitalize downtown, he said.

The city hopes to have nine board members appointed in January and the foundation in place by March.

The corporation will cost the city $94,000 a year, including a paid executive director position. The city anticipates using $60,000 from its industrial development fund and having the remaining $34,000 come from operating the Pasco Specialty Kitchen and Pasco Farmers Market.

Councilman Tom Larsen, who voted against the proposal, said he was voting no because "business people with financial interests in downtown should not be chosen to run this organization."

But Councilman Al Yenney said stakeholders in the downtown area need to be part of the corporation for it to work.

"Without that, you have an association that has no ties to the downtown area," he said.

Yenney said he thinks the city should welcome some of the current PDDA members onto the board.

Also Monday:

w Homeowners from the Kurtzman Park neighborhood encouraged the city to take another look at the planned improvements and assessments in their area.

The city hopes to add curbs, sidewalks, gutters and street lights to the northern portion of the Kurtzman Park neighborhood using a Local Improvement District, or LID, where property owners are assessed to pay for the changes.

The city already has set aside $334,000 from a federal grant to pay for the $1.3 million project, said Rick White, city community and economic development director.

Jerry Miller, who owns 16 lots in the neighborhood, said the assessment would cost him about $30,000, but "I don't see $30,000 advantage for me."

Ronnie Campbell, who also owns property in the neighborhood, said he already has a sidewalk next to his home. He said he doesn't see how he is expected to donate $25,000 worth of property for the improvements and then pay the city $36,000.

"I'm for the improvements, don't get me wrong, but I want it to be fair," he said.

Crutchfield said the city will have federal grant dollars to help low-income property owners pay for the assessment for their home.

And White said city staff have rewritten the fee calculation so that it takes into account the size of the lot when determining the owner's share of the assessment.

The council extended the public hearing to Jan. 18 to give the city time to send out corrected notices with the adjusted assessments.