Tying goals to city money right move for Kennewick

Accountability is key when organizations receive taxpayer money.

That's why we're delighted that the city of Kennewick is asking the Downtown Kennewick Historic Partnership to meet goals if it expects to continue to receive money from the city each year.

For those of us who spend a significant amount of time in downtown Kennewick, we know the district has had its share of fits and starts over the years as it moves toward the long-term -- and still elusive -- goal of being a shopping and dining destination for locals and tourists.

Sure, visible improvements can be seen, with additional business facades being renovated each year in keeping with the historic vibe of downtown. And the growing public art collection along Kennewick Avenue is slowly helping to change the neighborhood's image.

But businesses continue to open and then quite quickly close or relocate to other parts of the Tri-Cities in hopes of drawing more customers.

The city has given the downtown partnership money since 1999 with no strings attached. And while operating on faith may be a heart-warming way to support an organization, it's not how governments should work when distributing funding, especially over so many years.

We've long wondered just what the expectations of the downtown organization are, and now there will be goals to be met before the city makes its $50,000 contribution in 2012.

The city council is asking the organization to show quarterly progress reports. The goals include developing a comprehensive marketing campaign, showing at least one visible improvement project per quarter, identifying and reducing the vacancy rate and developing a five-year vision that includes a plan for a Columbia Drive business district in keeping with recent goals for that area.

The city council indicated there had been some initial reticence on the part of the downtown association's board because of the potential to lose funding if goals aren't met. And we say that's exactly why a contract with performance requirements tied to funding is essential for the success of the organization and others like it.

The city is holding the group's feet to the fire and it's about time. The organization's board has agreed to the contract terms, which will ideally spur the group to take action on the goals outlined by the city. The added pressure should only help the association reach its long-term goals.

Various businesses have dropped in and out of the organization over the years, with many becoming frustrated by a perceived lack of activity. This new proof of performance contract may be a great way to draw new and former members to the organization and breath new life into downtown.

The success of downtown Kennewick is important and much time has been spent discussing it over the years. The same goes for the Columbia Drive business corridor and the redevelopment of the waterfront near Clover Island.

The time is right for the city to demand results and for the downtown group to deliver. The future of downtown Kennewick depends on it.