The new public corporation Pasco created to pump vigor into downtown businesses continues to take baby steps.
But in the past month, the young Downtown Pasco Development Authority has accomplished two major goals -- hiring an executive director and receiving the assets of the formerly volunteer-run group.
The Downtown Pasco Development Authority officially became a public corporation in May 2011. Pasco created the group in December 2010 because city council members said the volunteer-run Pasco Downtown Development Association, PDDA, wasn't making enough progress in its mission to improve Pasco's downtown.
Amy Kuchler became the new public corporation's executive director a few weeks ago. The transfer of assets from PDDA to the new public corporation became official March 16.
Kuchler was the top candidate in the board's second round of interviews, said Mike Miller, the corporation's board president.
Kuchler, of Pasco, is a Kennewick High School graduate. Her background includes marketing and fundraising for area nonprofits as well as work for Kennewick General Hospital, Lourdes Medical Center and the Chaplaincy.
Her annual salary and benefits are about $65,000.
Miller said the group is making an investment in Kuchler.
"Sometimes, it's nice to have a rookie with a whole ton of energy," he said.
This past week, Kuchler traveled to Baltimore, Md., to participate in the National Main Streets Conference. Next month, she will attend the state Main Streets Conference near Lake Chelan.
A grant Columbia Basin College received will help pay for the Baltimore trip, Kuchler said.
She's starting with a long to-do list, ranging from reviewing the authority's $259,000 budget to suggesting community events to the downtown group's board.
Miller said the board isn't promising to bring back the Fiery Foods Festival, created by the PDDA.
The group wants Kuchler to help create a first-class event, but the new group will face the same challenge that PDDA did in finding enough volunteers to pull off such an event, Miller said.
The group has entered into leases with the city for office space, the Pasco Specialty Kitchen and the Pasco Farmers Market, said Rick White, Pasco's community and economic development director.
Board members have focused on setting up the corporation, which included creating bank accounts and hiring Kuchler, White said.
The group is in the process of opening an office at the old post office building on Third Avenue and Lewis Street. Miller said the corporation is leasing the space from the city and using city surplus furniture, and a surplus computer, to get started.
The authority is separate from the city, although it is receiving city funding and assistance while starting up, Miller said.
Miller said the goal is to help downtown businesses grow so his group can add profit, expand and add staff.
The Downtown Pasco Development Authority will continue the faade program started by PDDA. Miller said Mi Casa Furniture's new front was a project that the PDDA helped with.
Miller said they also intend to hold classes for downtown business owners, following the lead of CBC and PDDA.
The Pasco Specialty Kitchen and Pasco Farmers Market now are operated by the new corporation, and Miller said he doesn't expect any significant changes to either.
PDDA board members agreed to continue to operate the Pasco Specialty Kitchen and Pasco Farmers Market until the new corporation was able to take over.
Dennis Gisi, PDDA's president, said his group would have preferred to continue as the group working to revitalize downtown, but it believed downtown merchants didn't need two groups.
"We wish them luck," Gisi said.
The board still has one vacant board member position, Miller said.
They also plan to add liaison board members from groups with a stake in downtown, including CBC, the Pasco School District, Franklin PUD, Lourdes, Port of Pasco, Goodwill Industries and the Pasco and Tri-Cities Hispanic chambers of commerce.
City staff have said it would take at least a year for the new public corporation to get its feet under itself, and another two to three years to realize results created by the Downtown Pasco Development Authority.
As a taxpayer, Miller said he expects to see benefits from the annual $60,000 investment by the city of Pasco.