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Snoqualmie tourism consultant makes recommendations

SNOQUALMIE - Snoqualmie needs to connect the dots.

That's part of the conclusion Roger Brooks of Destination Development Inc. has come to while crafting an economic development plan for the city over the last several months.

Brooks, founding member of the branding group, has put together a four-part plan to give Snoqualmie a makeover that will increase tourism, beautify downtown and create a more cohesive Valley. He will present his recommendations at a Snoqualmie City Council meeting in October. He said the first thing Snoqualmie has to do is connect the dots better.

"We're going to recommend that the entire Valley get together and do a 'way-finding' program so that people can get all over. North Bend needs to tell people how to get to Snoqualmie Falls, and Snoqualmie needs to tell people how to get to North Bend. Right now, they all go through I-90. They don't even go through Snoqualmie because they don't know the two connect," Brooks said.

Way-finding signs will include a new Snoqualmie logo, which will be less busy than the current one that focuses mostly on the Snoqualmie Falls.

Brooks arrived at these conclusions after an initial assessment, a review of previous plans to avoid duplication, interviewing residents and meeting with organizations and business owners. A retail study and census are also in the works.

Brooks has interviewed more than 100 Snoqualmie residents and has met with nearly every group in town from the Railway Museum to Meadowbrook Farm. His next task is to study Snoqualmie's demographics and put together his recommendations.

Brooks is currently working with the city and Callison Architecture in Seattle on a plan to improve building facades. Both sides of Railroad Avenue need improvement, Brooks said. Downtown should play up its historic nature with more buildings in the style of the old city hall, now the planning department, on the corner of Falls Avenue and Southeast River Street.

"Upscale but very historic. The idea is to make it prettier and more attractive and maybe change the business mix without destroying the charm," Brooks said.

He noted that Carmichael's True Value store on Falls Avenue and the Snoqualmie United Methodist Church are both structures he "hopes never leave" because they fit with Snoqualmie's rural culture so well. "The idea is not to lose that authentic character. It's more of a makeover than a start over."

Brooks also wants to create names for the various districts of the city. For example, what most people refer to as downtown might be called "the railroad district."

One of the larger problem areas Brooks observed is that Snoqualmie seems to be two cities.

"I think what's happening is the bar has been raised in Snoqualmie with the Salish and the Falls and the Ridge; even the business park and the downtown has lagged way behind that," said Brooks. "It doesn't offer a lot for the Lodge or the people on the Ridge. The biggest challenge lies in raising the bar for downtown to make it a destination place. We believe the heart and soul of any community is its downtown, that's one of our major priorities."

For boosting tourism, Snoqualmie should model itself after other local historic downtowns such as Port Townsend, Brooks said.

"If you think about the fact that there are four and a half million people living in Western Washington and think about the Puget Sound area and most popular places they go to in the Northwest, that list would include Port Townsend, Victoria, Coeur d' Alene ... little artsy towns. They are all at least a one-hour drive away so can you imagine what the possibilities for Snoqualmie would be if it could implement what those towns have done and is only 20 minutes away? I think Snoqualmie has tremendous potential for tourism," Brooks said.

An economic development organization that would attract jobs to the Ridge will be the toughest part of the new plan, according to Brooks, who said the city needs "family wage jobs" or jobs that can support families. The city's residents largely don't work in the city and the city's workers don't live in Snoqualmie for the most part, which makes for "a tremendous amount of leakage."

One misperception outsiders have about Snoqualmie is that it's in the mountains and "way out there." This is something that can be fixed with a little marketing and pubic relations work, Brooks said.

Brooks hopes the City Council can develop his plan in its entirety rather than picking and choosing various portions of it. "Because it's like a puzzle, all the pieces fit together. We want to make sure we have something everyone can buy into."

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