KIMA checks city manager's progress after 2 years on job in Yakima

KIMA checks city manager's progress after 2 years on job in Yakima
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima's city manager has now been on the job for two years. KIMA sat down with Tony O'Rourke to see what progress he's made, and if he's accomplished what he set out to do. It's the first of a two-part interview, focusing on economic development and the airport, which have been key priorities for O'Rourke.

Yakima is looking towards the airport to help our city grow, pushing for an extra daily flight to Seattle as the first step. To do that, there needs to be an increase in ridership to an average of 75 percent of capacity for the year. Last month, it sat at 67 percent. KIMA asked if advertising and remodeling is enough incentive to draw passengers.

"What about other incentives to draw people in?" asked KIMA. "I was thinking parking. So, parking at Yakima is $9 a day for long-term, same as Tri-Cities, $9 a day. They have lots in Seattle for as cheap as $4 or $5."

"Yeah, remote parking, but the big expense for Seattle is the drive, the parking, but oftentimes you'll have to get a hotel room," said O'Rourke.

O'Rourke says if Pasco can attract more passengers, so can we.

"They have six times the passenger count as we have - six times, same market area - because they go six flights to Seattle, nine direct flights to markets outside the state of Washington."

KIMA brought other suggestions to the table, such as the city paying upfront for the extra flight to draw in more passengers with the convenience.

"Yeah, you can guarantee flights, I've done that elsewhere, but that's a big risk, and sometimes it gets you the flight, but then you have to sustain that flight for load factors," said O'Rourke. "If you basically are buying the flight, guaranteeing their income stream and, after a year it drops off because there's no more guarantee, you just wasted a quarter of a million dollars."

The other major push for economic development is bringing more businesses downtown. The number of business licenses registered yearly in Yakima has grown from about 5,400 in 2010 to more than 6,800 last year.

"Should we try to compete with big retailers when there's Union Gap right there?" asked KIMA.

"Well, the big retailers aren't interested in being downtown," O'Rourke said. "You know, they want lifestyle centers. What the downtown will attract will be more boutique shopping, restaurant, entertainment experiences."

New businesses to bring new energy to our city. It's a challenge as Tony O'Rourke enters his third year as city manager.

You can watch the rest of what O'Rourke had to say about downtown revitalization as well as public safety Thursday night.