WENATCHEE — “What is Wenatchee going to look like in 10 or 20 years?”
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said he has asked people that question often. The answer is it's going to look a lot different, he said.
“The whole region is growing, not just us (Wenatchee); and Wenatchee is the economic hub for the whole region,” Kuntz said. “We have the largest hospital in the region, largest college, the PUD is here, a lot of big companies are here, where people need to come in and out everyday or move here.”
Kuntz won the vote for the 2023 Public Life and Leadership Award, in recognition of exceptional leadership serving the community, as one of The Wenatchee World's North Central Washington Community Impact Awards.
His leadership likely is seen in economic development.
"Wenatchee is growing and it's exciting, and he (Kuntz) is doing a great job handling that," said Jose Luis Cuevas, Wenatchee City Council member. "He's a great inspiration to me and many people, and I learn a lot from his leadership."
"He (Kuntz) leading the way for milestones for Wenatchee and making generational changes," said Laura Gloria, executive services director for the city.
As a certified public accountant, Kuntz's skills in finance make him a great asset to the city, Cuevas said.
"He (Kuntz) shows his leadership by staying on top of the budget," Cuevas said. "He's presenting Wenatchee at its best, with all the projects we got going on all around the city to make it better."
Some might say in the last year, Kuntz and his office led the way for economic development in the city with those projects, which will impact Wenatchee's look.
Kuntz said he and city officials have pushed for two apartment projects in downtown Wenatchee to cultivate a more pedestrian-oriented culture downtown and create a more lively scene that will prompt more business.
In the last year, the city granted a two-year extension for the development of The Majestic, a five-story apartment building with a restaurant and two underground parking floors with 100 stalls for public use.
The site is being developed at a parking lot on the corner of Mission and Kittitas streets. Construction for the project was set to begin last year, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction is now set to begin in 2024.
Another project, known as the Riverfront Village apartments, sits on a 2.5-acre parcel that faces Riverfront Park, just west of the curve where North Worthen Street becomes Riverside Drive. Plans for the area include five, five-story apartment buildings with 454 units, a recreation center and a pool. The whole project is expected to be completed in 2025.
Other projects are in the works, as well.
“For a long time, hardly any people lived downtown or wanted to live downtown. Now in four to five years, there’s going to be a lot of people living downtown,” Kuntz said.
Another way Kuntz said he's trying to boost the scene downtown is by getting a new design for the Wenatchee Convention Center to make it the new face of that area.
“The message I think it’s sending is that change is good and that it’s OK to upgrade and OK to want to look modern and cool,” Kuntz said.
“It’s okay to want to have your city look cool and your government, too,” he said, referring to the move of relocating city hall last year to the former federal building on 301 Yakima St.
A northern part of the city will look different, too.
The city ordered the construction of the “MegaKittrick” project to begin in the spring.
The project includes a new traffic light signal between McKittrick Street and North Wenatchee Avenue and extends McKittrick Street to create an underpass for the train tracks to intersect North Columbia Street. Sidewalks and crosswalks are also included.
In the vicinity of the MegaKittrick project are 8 acres of city-owned property the city plans to develop into a commercial and retail destination.
Last year, Kuntz and his office started marketing the property nationally to find an anchor tenant, a well-known commercial brand to attract other businesses to occupy the property.
Kuntz said the city will reveal the anchor tenant in the spring.
Kuntz said he's been pushing for the Confluence Parkway Project in part by meeting with Rep. Kim Schrier to help secure $94.1 million in federal money through the Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant.
The Confluence Parkway Project is a 2.5-mile bypass that proposes a new bridge over the Wenatchee River to provide the city with a new connection to Highway 2/97. The project intends to relieve traffic congestion on North Wenatchee Avenue.
In November 2022, the city council gave Kuntz the authority to negotiate and sign an environmental assessment agreement for the project with the Chelan County PUD.
Kuntz said it was a "big ask" from the council and he was honored they trusted him with the task. Kuntz signed the agreement with the PUD in December.
Construction is expected to begin in 2025, but final approvals are needed from the Federal Highway Administration.
“We’re going to change the way we look and we’re going to prosper,” Kuntz said.