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.
This page provides links to resources and illustrates some of the strategies Washington local governments have used to develop these characteristics. 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.
- Cool Economic Development Tools, by Kennedy Smith, Main Street Now, November/December 2010.
- Ten Realistic Retail Themes for a Vibrant Downtown, by Bill Ryan, Downtown Idea Exchange, 06/15/2008
- Downtown Research and Development Center - Forum for exchanging news, information, and ideas about downtown revitalization
- How "Green" is Your Main Street?, MainStreet News, 04/2009, entire issue - Articles on how sustainability relates to main street and how to get started
- Leveraging the Creative Economy for Downtown Development, Josephine Kelly, Georgia Downtown Association, 02/06/2014
- Main Street Center - National Trust for Historic Preservation - Useful information for revitalizing historic downtown centers
- Main Street Program, Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation - Uses National Main Street Center's 4-Point Approach® Program; managed by Washington Trust for Historic Preservation
- Turning Around Downtown: Twelve Steps to Revitalization, by Christopher B. Leinberger, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, 03/08/2005
- Downtown Revitalization, Rural Information Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Resource Guide updated 04/2014; links to many publications and reports on downtown revitalization in small communities
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"
This section includes links to related MRSC pages and sample downtown streetscape projects and plans from Washington jurisdictions.