Our Voice: Plans for downtown Pasco have chance for success

For many longtime residents of the Tri-Cities, envisioning downtown Pasco as "a fun, urban place to be" is a bit of a stretch. Okay, make that a big stretch.

We've seen the section of town between Columbia Street and Bonneville Street go from a thriving retail and dining district to an area challenged by business turnover, deteriorating buildings and a genuine lack of appeal during the past few decades.

Really, when was the last time many of us made downtown Pasco a destination for anything other than the farmers market? And as other markets have sprung up across the Tri-Cities, even that draws fewer people to Pasco.

But maybe, just maybe, that is all about to change.

A new five-year plan aims to alter Pasco's future. Sure, we've seen plans that started then abruptly stopped through the years, but this one seems to have some new energy, in large part because of the executive director of the Downtown Pasco Development Authority.

Where others see blight and big obstacles to change, Michael Goins seems to see opportunity.

The five-year plan was designed after talking with 15 community leaders, business owners and media members.

In the first three years, the plan would focus on enhancing the retail district. The last two years would aim at attracting more retail and mixed-use style development. Think storefronts downstairs and homes upstairs.

The mixed-use concept is what will attract young professionals who work at Hanford to live in downtown Pasco, Goins said. "They are looking for a fun, urban place to be."

With zoning already in place for residences on the second floor of downtown buildings, Pasco is in a prime position to make that a reality. But it will likely take investors with deep pockets. It's a lofty but attainable goal.

The administration at the Downtown Pasco Development Authority has already moved to bring back the Fiery Foods Festival, which was one of the highlights of festival season before it died for lack of volunteers and management. Getting people to make downtown a viable destination one event at a time is a good start.

Columbia Basin College students have been recruited to develop a marketing plan for the farmers market and study ways to replace the decrepit fountain at Peanuts Park.

Bringing more restaurants to the district and a "buy downtown" campaign are other goals for the early part of the plan. A river trail and streetscapes are longer term projects on the wish list.

Downtown business owners like the plan, but see the transient population prone to linger in Peanuts Park and other downtown locations as a big hurdle in attracting visitors. Goins said the more people who come downtown to shop and eat, "the fewer transients there will be."

We're not sure about that logic, but making the area more appealing to visitors is key to getting them downtown. We've seen rougher neighborhoods gentrified in other urban locales.

The challenge for Pasco's proponents is that a five-year plan without funding or practical applications is just another piece of paper.

But somehow we think the players are in place to see this vision through. We look forward to seeing what's ahead for downtown Pasco.