Prosser working to revitalize downtown area

PROSSER - Deb Heintz says she gets approached all of the time from business owners, property owners and community members asking her, what can be done to enhance the business core in Prosser.

So Heintz, executive director for the Prosser Economic Development Association, decided to find out what could be done.

The association commissioned six WSU graduate students to come to Prosser and do a research project. The task, to find out what other cities have been able to accomplish through revitalization, the best practices of successful revitalization and the first steps to be taken in a successful revitalization.

By realizing these goals the city hoped for a revitalization plan that incorporates a "facelift" for downtown. They also want to increase pride in Prosser and in drawing tourists to town.

Charlie Miracle, one of the graduate students working on the project, told Prosser business owners and residents at a meeting Monday night that Prosser has a wealth of resources and opportunities available to them now.

Miracle recommended to the audience a four-point approach to revitalization that has a strong record of success. These were organization, design, promotion and economic development. "These four areas are critical to success," Miracle said.

Organization is establishing consensus and cooperation by building effective partnerships among all downtown stakeholders. This can be done with strong leadership and organizational structure. Funding is needed and coordination among the groups is important. Planning and having a vision for Prosser is also a must, said Miracle.

The second approach is design. This is how the downtown is going to look and how residents will feel about it. Outward appearance and atmosphere is important. Deteriorated appearances of buildings, high vacancy rates and dirty, unkempt appearances are major design problems for downtown areas.

The WSU students recommended Prosser start with low cost, high impact projects and to plan multiple projects to ensure short term success. Prosser must keep any vision statement in mind when planning any project, said Miracle.

A few possible projects the group suggested was to continue to install street lights, plant trees in sidewalks in the downtown area for shade and install benches for shoppers and pedestrians.

To achieve all these goals, Miracle said, promotion is needed. Communication is a main component of promotion. It's important to let the people know what is going on. "You can build excitement by promoting the downtown businesses and creating an environment that the local community enjoys and also is desirable to potential out of town visitors," Jennifer Bilskis, another grad student working on the project, said.

Bilskis also warned about sending the wrong message, "Make sure you're getting to your target audience," she said. A few examples she told the audience was to use fairs, festivals and shows to promote downtown Prosser.

"Events should take place at regular intervals through the year and make sure you receive feedback to ensure events are achieving desired results and to find out who is attending," Bilskis added.

The group of WSU grad students ended the meeting by telling the audience to be sure to focus on the four key principles and to give equal attention to each to ensure success.

"I think they gave us a really good format to go by," Heintz said. "Giving us options for resources, structuring for an association and what worked and didn't work in other communities."

Dixie Lanouette, owner of Keno's restaurant, agreed. "I thought it was really good," she said. "There are lots of things to learn. This gives the downtown group an opportunity to get together and grow as a community and hear everyone's ideas. We all have our own but it's good to pool them together."

A follow-up meeting will take place Jan. 24, 2006 at 6 p.m. in the Benton REA conference room.


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