The city of Pullman is beginning its downtown master plan this year to determine what its downtown will look like in the coming decades
That’s according to city officials and Washington State University representatives during a League of Women Voters of Pullman meeting Monday night at the Congressional United Church of Christ.
In an attempt to promote downtown revitalization, the city will choose a consultant this spring to help it craft a master plan for economic development, accessibility, art and the general look of downtown during the next 10 to 20 years.
Pullman Public Works Director Kevin Gardes said the city has received eight proposals from consultant firms after sending out requests for qualifications. The city is in the process of putting together a selection committee to evaluate those proposals. The city has budgeted around $100,000 to get started on the master plan.
Parking, Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, pedestrian and bicycle friendliness, and public art are among the many areas the consultant will be asked to work with the city on improving.
Part of the 2019 budget, Gardes said, will be to begin making improvements to High Street Mall, start on the Pine Street Plaza extension and improvements to Main Street and Grand Avenue.
The city will be aided by the Downtown Pullman Association, a group organized to tackle downtown-oriented projects that has already contributed to Art Walk, the Winter Farmers Market and helping new businesses.
As traffic is a major concern for downtown, an audience member asked the panel how plans for a south bypass highway would factor into the master plan. City Administrator Adam Lincoln said such a route could take a portion of traffic out of downtown, but it will take a lot of time and money to complete.
The south bypass would connect U.S. Highway 195 to the Moscow-Pullman Highway with a route that goes around the Jess Ford dealership and Walmart.
Lincoln said it would cost about $1 million just for the planning and could take generations to complete unless the city can work with the Washington State Department of Transportation to complete it more quickly.
Allison Fisher, a WSU graduate student and downtown initiative coordinator with WSU’s Office of the President, said a WSU professor performed a noise and quality of life study on Pullman’s downtown and determined that with all the traffic and large vehicles passing through downtown, the noise was louder than New York City.
The panel also discussed the importance of business development.
Fisher said six businesses have opened downtown in the past year and a half, and the city hopes to continue supporting business growth by joining the state’s Main Street Program, which can provide funding for more downtown revitalization projects.
An audience member asked what the city can do about empty storefronts and buildings, including the long-vacant Mimosa building on Main Street. Lincoln said these are difficult problems because the city wants to avoid violating private property rights.
He said Pullman is better off focusing its attention on improving what it can control instead of those buildings that have not been touched in years. He said if the area around these buildings are beautified and put to good use, that may influence building owners to do the same.
“What works best is being peer-pressured as opposed to government pressure,” Lincoln said.
Timothy Esser, who owns a law firm on Main Street, expressed frustration about the current state of downtown. He suggested several ideas, including condemning the Mimosa building and persuading Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe to introduce a satellite store downtown.
He also said the city’s plans to move city hall to its new Crestview Street location is a “terrible blow” to Pullman’s downtown, especially since the city has not decided what to do with the current city hall building on Paradise Street.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.