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Central Business District - Downtown Development

This page provides resources and examples of strategies that local governments in Washington State have used to promote downtown development and revitalization.


The vitality of a city's downtown is an important element in a community's economic development strategy. Goals such as promoting the revitalization of downtown to create a vital commercial core as the center of the community, or to revitalize and increase the economic vitality of downtown, are frequently articulated in city and town comprehensive plans. These goals are further developed by strategies that focus on traffic, transportation links and parking, visual appearance including signs, pedestrian improvements, safety, business location, and marketing.

As with other economic development strategies, downtown development should start with a community vision and be executed as a cooperative process between the local government and the local business community. Capitalizing on assets that attract tourists is a viable option for many of Washington's downtowns.

Resources for Downtown Development

The following are general sources of information regarding downtown development and revitalization.

Selected Statutes Applicable to Financing Downtown Development

These statutes and related MRSC webpages address financing of downtown development. See also Washington Statutes Relating to Financing Economic Development, MRSC

Program and Plan Descriptions

Many communities have websites to market their downtowns that include information on how their downtown vision is being carried out. The marketing of downtown is often done by the local chamber of commerce or other downtown association and may appear on a visitor information website.

Downtowns Developed Around Themes

Each community has a unique identity that can serve as the basis for downtown development. It might be the preservation of a cultural heritage, such as Poulsbo's Scandinavian roots or Lynden's Dutch heritage. In some communities, the existence of historic structures from a different era provides a central focus, as in Port Townsend and Snohomish.

For many smaller towns, the preservation and enhancement of the small town or village atmosphere may be the primary theme on which to develop. Caution should be exercised if a community chooses to pursue a theme that does not have roots in the community or is not related to the community's architectural character or physical location.

Leavenworth - "The Bavarian Village"

Toppenish - "Where the West Still Lives" and "City of Murals"

  • Toppenish Municipal Code Ch. 17.26 - Design Review District
  • "City of Murals" - Toppenish has over 70 murals bringing to life scenes from the Old West: railroading, rodeos, farming, aviation events, Yakama Indian Nation scenes, and various historical events. Every mural is an historically correct depiction of the area's history.

Winthrop - "Gateway to the North Cascades"

Langley - "Washington's Most Beautiful Waterfront Town"

Walla Walla - "Cradle of Northwest History"

Zillah Tuscan Design

  • Zillah Municipal Code Ch. 15.30 - Old World Architectural Design Standards

Downtown Historic Districts

These communities have capitalized on their historic character to attract tourists. For more information, see MRSC's page on Historic Preservation.

La Conner - "Historic Fishing Village"

Port Townsend - "Washington's Victorian Seaport"

  • Port Townsend Municipal Code Ch. 17.30 - Historic Preservation Code (see Sec.17.30.140 - Historic Overlay District - Design Review)
  • PTGuide - Guide to city sights and activities

Snohomish - "Antique Capital of the Northwest"

Downtown Streetscape

This section includes links to related MRSC pages and sample downtown streetscape projects and plans from Washington jurisdictions.

Last Modified: June 22, 2018