A peek into the future of Edmonds?

New businesses, hotels, year-round farmers market on the table
By Brian Soergel | May 30, 2019
Photo by: Brian Soergel

With new restaurants seeming to open every week downtown, big plans for Highway 99, and tourists mobbing Edmonds as never before, you might think the Citizens Economic Development Commission’s mission might be to sit back and let the future unfold.

That’s not happening.

While restaurants might enjoy full tills and SRO crowds, other, longstanding businesses might be soon facing an uncertain future as Edmonds’ popularity as a destination has led to increased rent for tenants from longstanding landlords.

Last month, at a City Council meeting, the commission – a nine-member, volunteer board appointed by the mayor and council to provide advice and recommendations on economic vitality, jobs and enhancement of municipal revenue – provided an overview of the activities it’s considering undertaking over the next 12 to 18 months.

The commission designated three work groups, with each one focusing on key objectives approved by the entire group.

Here’s a deeper look at the groups’ missions:

Business attraction

The business attraction work group will attempt to seek out and market to businesses that might enhance the business community and create new living-wage jobs in Edmonds.

This includes conducting interviews with new Edmonds businesses to determine what about Edmonds attracted them and learn what the City can do to support their business growth. In addition, members will conduct interviews with businesses that have recently left Edmonds to determine the reasons for leaving and what, if anything, the City could have done to better support them.

“In a perfect world, we would do a cross-section of different types of new businesses, from service businesses to retail,” Economic Development Commission chair Mary Monroe said.

“What we're trying to do is determine is how the process went, what was good, what could be made better. And then, also, to determine what sort of aspirations they might have and why, why they think Edmonds is a good fit for them.”

Members might get an earful, as Edmonds, like most cities, is scrupulous to a point in checking off permits, planning and environmental codes, which can lead to tenant improvements. The downtown core consists of buildings that look pretty, but are also pretty old.

The new 407 Coffee House in the Beeson Building, for example, had its planned Feb. 1 opening pushed back almost three months after officials found plumbing did not meet code.

“There’s an educational component that might be needed there,” Monroe said. “To help people understand what the process is and why things take the time that they do. (Business owners) might think the City is intentionally dragging its feet. But these things just take time.”

Also on the business attraction’s radar are investigating the development of community workspaces. “The intention would be to identify whether we believe that is a need,” Monroe said. “Are there buildings or sites that makes sense? We would then reach out owners and see if that is something to be pursued or not.”

Finally, there will be an emphasis on looking into recruiting businesses that complement the existing health care sector.

Monroe said the commission feels there could be opportunities there, which may consist of marketing efforts to make those outside of the immediate area aware of what's available, as well as determining what available space or properties are that could be either built or redeveloped.

Monroe said the group will work with health-care partners for ideas, and to learn what possible gaps in medical care need to be filled.

Arts and tourism

The Arts and Tourism work group is focused on increasing tourism and supporting the expanding arts community in Edmonds. To support its goals, it seeks local, regional, and statewide partnerships, including grants, in-kind support and education.

At the top of the list is an idea that’s been kicked around before – seeking opportunities for hotel development in and near downtown Edmonds. There are no hotels in the downtown core; the Best Western Plus Harbor Inn is west of SR 104 and just south of Dayton Street West.

Downtown remains Edmonds’ top destination, with businesses and the Edmonds Center for the Arts capturing many of the weekend travelers.

“We believe we fill those hotel rooms relatively easily,” Monroe said. “That's a revenue generator, obviously. We've got a couple of locations in mind and could we, zone-wise, put a hotel there? And would they be viable with ‘x’ number of rooms? Then there’s height limitations, which we don't want to change, but that's a reality.

“There has been interest in developers interested in building hotels in Edmonds, and what we’re trying to do is to see if we can make that easier.”

Another idea is to begin a shuttle service from the Edmonds waterfront to downtown, transporting ferry riders, among others. Downtown visitors could use the shuttle to reach the water.

“The Port of Edmonds is very active; the Puget Sound Express brings in thousands of people every year for whale watching,” Monroe said, adding that visitors also dock their boats at the marina, where the Port has created brochures listing Edmonds attractions.

“The idea is to make that transportation a little bit more effortless, and we’re looking at costs, which of course is a big deal,” she said. “And would it be something that we do on weekends, or just in the summer?”

In addition to the trolley, the arts and tourism group will investigating the feasibility of a year-round farmers market. The Edmonds Historical Museum’s current markets are successful; this year, the Garden Market began May 4 and continues through June 8, while the larger Summer Market is June 15 through Oct. 5.

“Would it be feasible? Because no one's going to farmers market in the driving rain,” Monroe said. But she said a possibility would be exploring a covered area, such as in the future Civic Park. “We feel, community-wise, there’s an interest in that. We have a good growing season. Certainly the produced components, like juices and that kind of thing. And the craft component would still be there.”

Development feasibility

The development feasibility work group aims to ensure Edmonds is attractive and supportive of incoming development, while respecting the unique Edmonds neighborhoods, landmarks and downtown look and feel.

Committee members will look at permit process improvements and review neighborhood business district codes for potential update recommendations.

“What I want to emphasize is that we’re not going in and rewriting code,” Monroe said. “That's not where we're going with that, at all. Not even close. What we're more interested in doing is looking at the process. Is the process confusing to (the public)? We just want to talk to people and see how we can help make it smoother.

“And again, we at least know that there's a potential that it's an educational component or a customer service kind of component, more so than actually needing to change the process. All of this would have to be done with total partnership with the planning board and the planning department. And they're on board.”

The elephant in the room

It’s parking. Monroe knows this. It’s not on the commission’s current plan; a past group offered suggestions, and it could be convened again.

She mentioned that the tick marks on downtown streets have helped, but they’ve only created a small amount of extra parking, as has making City employees’ parking spaces further away from City Hall.

“Certainly,” she said, “people have talked about a parking structure, which would need to be done in partnership with either maybe the Port or Sound Transit.”

The commission’s parking group, Monroe added, is waiting for the City to complete its own parking study. Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said there is no ETA on its completion at this time.

“We would look at what the outcome of that is,” Monroe said, “and see whether or not there's any role that we could play in either advising on that or helping to implement that in some fashion.”

According to the Economic Development Commission’s Darrol Haug, an updated on a parking-approved study and request for qualifications has been issued. The goal is to provide a consultant list and, ultimately, based on their qualifications and a scope of work, a consultant will be selected for the study.

The commission has also studied parking around Civic Field to maximize what is available around the field. Pay parking will be part of the study.

The public will be invited to comment on any plan in yet-to-be-set open houses. The study is expected to be completed by September.

Downtown Edmonds does have three-hour parking in spots downtown, and the issue of paid parking meters has also been whispered around town.

“The issue of free parking versus metered parking is really tricky,” Monroe said. “One of the things that people really like about Edmonds is that parking is free. You can come and not worry about it. It could change the a little bit. Would that really increased the availability of parking or just generate revenue for the city to maybe do more parking enforcement? It’s definitely a big issue.”

 

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