Progress in downtown Yakima? Business closes; agency could move

Progress in downtown Yakima? Business closes; agency could move »Play Video
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A couple of changes coming soon to Downtown Yakima aren't what city leaders want to see. A restaurant is closing its doors. And, a state agency could move its operations out of the city center. Decisions that work against Yakima's revitalization plans. KIMA asked the tough questions to find out how much progress is really being made.

In the heart of downtown, a piece of Yakima history. More than 100 Department of Ecology employees go to work there each day.

But, the building could soon be empty. Ecology might move to a space that fits its needs better.

Then, a short walk down Yakima Avenue, Tony's Steakhouse is closing its doors.

KIMA asked Yakima's Economic Development Manager, Sean Hawkins, "You have businesses downtown that are thinking about moving or that are closing altogether. Is this a case of two steps forward, one step back?

"Anytime you're trying to focus on downtown revitalization, it's going to be a long -term effort," said Hawkins. "It is not just like a silver bullet -- you can just do one thing and it's a cure all."

But, it's not just Ecology or Tony's. For sale and for lease signs line the downtown landscape.

Hawkins believes small businesses will still want to set up in Yakima's historic architecture. But, losing Ecology is an obstacle.

Ecology occupies over 40, 000 square feet. The city admits finding another tenant for this space, could be challenging.

"It is the larger ones that are going to be the challenge in the future, and whether we like it or not, sometimes the market is going to have to work those issues out," said Hawkins.

I asked Hawkins whether recent closures have figured at all into the city's downtown plans.

"Discussions have included parking, the plaza. Has there been any discussion around what to do about businesses that are moving out of downtown, closing, empty storefronts?"

"Well, not particularly," said Hawkins. He says talks focus more on where the city's headed.

Yakima neighbor, Michael Pelayo, has his doubts.

"I think that those business buildings will continue to be empty and the revitalization probably won't help at all."

Something city leaders want to prove wrong.

Hawkins says the hope is that Ecology stays in Yakima, even if it leaves downtown. Ecology will only say a handful of locations are being considered. A decision could come by the end of July.