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Downtown revitalization one step closer to getting off drawing board

The hustle and bustle of many of America's downtown hubs, especially in small, rural type communities, has been vanquished by box stores such as Wal-Mart and the likes.

The large retailers typically set up shop on the outskirts of these towns. The once thriving mom-and-pop stores, which more often than not made up the heart and soul of the downtown cores, are often unable to compete and soon after empty storefronts dot the landscape.

Many of these smaller cities have taken action to pump life back into their downtowns. Such was the case with Grandview, which just recently completed a multi-million dollar revitalization project that has transformed the heart of the city into an attractive, shopper-friendly environment.

It appears it's now Sunnyside's turn to reclaim its downtown hub.

Next Wednesday, Sept. 14, a visioning workshop will be held to jumpstart this city's downtown makeover. The effort is being spearheaded by City Manager Mark Gervasi.

"It's actually a collaborative effort on the part of the city council, myself and our business owners," said Gervasi.

Gervasi is quick to point out, however, that he's hopeful the entire community will realize they all have a stake in the revitalization. Towards that end, all community members from all walks of life are being urged to make their presence felt at next Wednesday's meeting. The visioning workshop is slated for 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Port of Sunnyside board room, located at 520 S. Seventh St.

After initial introductions are out of the way, the Sept. 14 meeting will kick off with a general review of the purpose of the project at hand. Gervasi said there will also be a review of the planning process and of the timeline in which it's hoped the revitalization can be completed. Maybe more importantly, next Wednesday's meeting is also being used to form a steering committee.

Topics of discussion next Wednesday will include defining which areas of Sunnyside make up the downtown core. Opinions will also be sought on what's currently working and what's not; and which types of elements make for a great downtown area.

Gervasi and city planners are also seeking input on what makes Sunnyside unique, specifically spelling out the city's attributes.

And, of course, those who choose to get involved with the project will be asked what their vision is for the downtown area.

As Grandview learned with its downtown upgrade, transformations do not occur overnight. It's a long, tedious process, and Gervasi said those who step up to help with Sunnyside's makeover need to realize there are no quick fixes.

"It's not a short process to get something like this done," he said. "It's going to take commitment and some patience."

The preliminary work that's already begun has resulted in a blueprint of sorts. City leaders, in selecting a comprehensive approach, want to engage the downtown property and business owners, as well as the community at-large, in planning for the future. The hoped-for end result, say municipal officials, is an improved appearance for the downtown, with streetscape improvements as a backdrop for future public and private improvements.

Those infrastructure-type improvements that will be on the table for discussion starting next week include street lighting, sidewalks, tree locations, streetscape amenities, landscape elements and illumination fixtures, all while keeping in mind the area's parking needs and traffic flow.

Gervasi said those who agree to be on the steering committee will meet regularly, perhaps once a month, maybe more often. Obviously, the city council will be relied upon to provide guidance and direction.

"This isn't a small undertaking," said Gervasi. "But it's our living room down there.

"It's a project we need to get started on."

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