Revitalizing downtown Kennewick is going to take relationships, says the new executive director of the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership.
Dan Smith’s contract with the nonprofit doesn’t start until Dec. 1.
He is out visiting businesses after his first meeting with the partnership’s board of directors. He’s reached out to the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce for a meeting and has more plans to hit the downtown’s streets.
“I’m going to find my niche, the best place to meet business owners, to meet with the residents,” he said.
Smith replaces Tim Dalton, who left the partnership in August after leading it for 13 years.
Russel Del Gesso, president of the partnership’s board, is excited to have Smith on board, he said. Smith is well-suited to help downtown — which includes everything between the blue and cable bridges and from the riverfront to 10th Avenue, — live up to its potential.
“We’re at a prime plateau to do this,” Del Gesso said.
The challenge now is for everyone with an interest in the area, from business and building owners to city officials and the Port of Kennewick, to coordinate their resources and their efforts to move a vision for the area forward, Del Gesso and Smith said.
Smith grew up west of the Cascades but fell in love with Eastern Washington and its less-soggy weather after attending Central Washington University, he said. He eventually moved to Zillah in 2005 and has lived on the east side ever since.
He’s worked primarily for nonprofits, including the American Lung Association and the Farmworkers Clinic. His most recent job was as executive director of the Historic Downtown Prosser Association, where he spent the past three-and-a-half years.
Fifteen people applied for the position with the partnership, Del Gesso said. The goal was to find someone who could work with the board to develop community events and promotions, foster economic restructuring and coordinate volunteer efforts, all while representing the face of downtown. His contract is a three-year deal and details were not disclosed.
“We’re happy we found Dan,” Del Gesso said.
Downtown does have some things going for it, Del Gesso and Smith said. The area’s role as a center for the antiques and secondhand market scene is going strong. The port is moving forward on its project to construct a wine village on Columbia Drive that could bring more people downtown.
The partnership now has a 5,500-square-foot business incubator space at Columbia Drive and Washington Street to support fledgling businesses and the city is administering a grant to help new or existing restaurants.
But there are also a lot of empty storefronts on downtown streets. A number of businesses, particularly restaurants, have either left downtown or closed down entirely.
That’s where building relationships comes into play, Smith said. It means meeting with business owners about the issues they’re facing, talking to landlords about how best to keep tenants in their buildings and working with public agencies and government officials on overall economic development.
“Our primary expectation is for him to gather information from the relationships that have fallen aside,” Del Gesso said.
Smith will also have some help, as the partnership board has also hired Chanel Johnson, who’s previously worked with the Pasco Jaycees and as a wine educator at Terra Blanca, to be an administrative assistant and also touch base with business owners.
Though he won’t start working for more than a week, Smith said he’s eager to get started.
“(People) need to see something that will make them want to visit,” he said.