Looking at downtown Sunnyside today, it is hard to imagine main street bustling with retail shops and the sidewalks lined with a constant stream of shoppers.
But that is the vision of the members of DIG Sunnyside, who are busy investing time and energy towards making the downtown core alive again.
Thursday night the three-person DIG (Downtown Improvement Group) committee began introducing the “National Main Street Approach” to other community movers and changers in hopes they too will join the downtown improvement movement and help make the dream of recreating downtown Sunnyside a reality.
While maybe not wanting to look exactly like the newly branded “Historic Downtown Prosser” approach, Sue Jetter of DIG said Sunnyside, with the help of the downtown business people and property owners, can transform the city core once again into a thriving center of commerce.
Once known as the Lower Valley’s shopping center, the city core has lately been filled with more empty store fronts than filled ones.
While the Main Street project is largely about preserving downtown historic buildings, of which there are several in Sunnyside on South Sixth Street and East Edison Avenue, it is more about managing the downtown and neighborhood commercial districts.
By adopting the Main Street Approach, towns like Prosser, just 12 miles to the east of Sunnyside, have seen their downtown area become healthy again.
“We currently have no downtown business spaces available,” said Dan Smith, the executive director of the Historical Downtown Prosser Association.
But it has not been an overnight process, he cautioned. “It has taken 20 years to get the town into the shape it is now, an attractive center for entertainment, shopping and dining,” he said.
There are a number of state and federal tax incentives available for businesses who want to join in the Main Street revitalization drive, said DeAnn Hochhalter, who also serves on the DIG committee.
Businesses can get back any money they put into the improvements they make to upgrade the store fronts and interiors, she explained.
Bernie Barker, the third member of the committee, pointed out that things are already happening in Sunnyside that point toward a rebirth of the community. Barker mentioned the Loving Sunnyside house painting project, the Sunnyside farmers market move to downtown, and the ongoing efforts of the Sunnyside Bronze Committee to create historic art commemorating the town’s varied and rich history.
“We already can see new infrastructure going into the downtown core,” added Jetter.
“We are already working with the city on developing plans, she said, “but we need you to make this work.”
The Downtown Improvement Group has launched a Facebook page – DIG Sunnyside - to mark the progress of the Sunnyside’s downtown revitalization efforts.
After last night introduction to the National Main Street program, excitement among many of the current downtown business people seemed to rise. Many stayed after the presentation to sign–up for the four areas of committees to make the Main Street Approach workable - namely promotion, economic restructuring, organization and design.
The committee will now take the names of the more than 40 people who attended last night’s meeting in order to form the committees and will begin meeting with each to brainstorm the next steps of the Main Street project.
“It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if we start,” Jetter said.