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How much to do? LID proposed for downtown improvements

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Elisabeth Holt, program and event director for the Wenatchee Downtown Association, discusses streetscape improvements at an informational meeting Wednesday.

WENATCHEE — Property owners here in the commercial core must decide by early August whether to spend an estimated $900,000 to spiff-up a four-block stretch of Wenatchee Avenue with a sleeker, more contemporary look.

We’ve talked. We’ve planned. We’ve talked about it some more,” said Eric Johnston, lead planner for SCJ Alliance, a Wenatchee design and consulting firm. “Now it’s time to act.”

Urban planners and city engineers on Wednesday presented a smorgasbord of draft proposals and estimated costs as a first step toward forming a local improvement district (LID) to finance the streetscape updates. Those would likely include better lighting, tree removal and replacement, landscaping, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, planter barrels and some adjustments to sidewalks and parking.

The LID would cover four blocks of Wenatchee Avenue between Second and Yakima streets and include 41 property owners. Work on the streetscape would coincide with a $1.8 million street overlay project — including improvements to below-surface water, sewer and electric lines — that’s set to begin in March and could mean a dusty, disruptive summer for some Wenatchee Avenue merchants.

Our hope is to combine these two projects so we only have the disruption once,” said Linda Haglund, executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association. Her group has worked for nearly a year to ready downtown merchants for the upcoming projects. “The question now is how much do we do? What options are best?”

The city is also drawing up plans to reroute truck traffic from Wenatchee Avenue. Accommodations for most rigs larger than delivery trucks have already been included in area street improvement projects, including work at the west end of the George Sellar Bridge. The truck reroute plan isn’t expected to be ready until summer 2014.

Property owners must form an LID to pay for any improvements, planners said Wednesday. That means a petition approved by owners holding 60 percent of assessed property evaluation within the affected blocks, a presentation to the City Council and agreement by all parties on assessment methods and payback terms.

Property owners would likely be assessed their share of improvement costs based on linear feet of street frontage. The city would pay for all improvements up front with the LID paying back the sum over the next 20 years.

For instance, Key Bank, with 255 frontage feet on Wenatchee Avenue, would pay an estimated total of $14,770 as its share of one lighting-improvement proposal. Salmon Enterprises, owner of the Morris Building, with 59 linear feet would pay about $3,400 as its share of the same proposed improvements.

The total cost for preferred options hovers around $900,000, said planners with SCJ Alliance, and includes most costs for engineering, construction, LID administration, legal services and financing. Planners said they hope to nail down final pricing within 30 days so the LID petition can be finalized for presentation to the council.

I’m all for the improvements to downtown,” said Ken Boyle, director of operations for the Wenatchee Convention Center. “We compete with every convention venue in the state, and what we hear over and over is how pleasant, convenient and safe our downtown is. We need to make sure it stays that way. We keep to keep it fresh.”

Mike Salmon, owner the downtown Morris Building, said continuing improvement on Wenatchee Avenue is good for business and property values. “If done correctly,” he said, “it makes for a more people-friendly environment that good for everybody.”

Local designer Adele Wolford said she likes the preliminary sketches of streetscape possibilities. “They show a clean, no-nonsense and contemporary design for downtown,” she said. “It’s more open and inviting — a beautiful place to shop and stroll.”