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Executive explores Valley's economic future

Carnation Mayor Lee Grumman escorts King County Executive Dow Constantine across the Tolt-McDonald Park suspension bridge. Constantine, who listened to Valley cities
Carnation Mayor Lee Grumman escorts King County Executive Dow Constantine across the Tolt-McDonald Park suspension bridge. Constantine, who listened to Valley cities' bids for support on recreation and tourism efforts, helped build the bridge as a Boy Scout in 1976.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

King County Executive Dow Constantine got an introduction to economic realities in Snoqualmie, Carnation and North Bend during his whirlwind tour of Valley cities.

Constantine met with mayors of the three cities on his way to a Snoqualmie Valley Governments Association dinner held Wednesday evening, Feb. 17, at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.

The economic future of the trio of cities was big part of all three mayors’ agendas. In Carnation, Mayor Lee Grumman touted the need for continued county support for agriculture, while Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson emphasized growth on the I-90-Snoqualmie Ridge corridor, downtown development and big plans for tourism at the Northwest Railway Museum. North Bend officials drummed on the need to maintain recreation access to areas such as Mount Si.

All three cities also underscored the need for flood protection, with Grumman calling for a basin-wide study on how growth is impacting flooding.

New hotel

The Valley’s economy was also a major theme during Constantine’s visit to the Snoqualmie Valley Record. Constantine met with Valley business leaders, listening, asking questions and requesting future briefings on topics from his staff.

“Our mission is to provide you with a resource now and in the future,” Valley Record Publisher William Shaw told Constantine. “These folks are well connected and have fingers on the pulse of what’s going on here.”

Constantine said he has spent a fair amount of time in each of the Valley’s cities and has watched them grow and change. He sees the Valley cities as an attractive place for visitors to spend time and money, and asked business leaders what they have done to build a strong visitor and tax base.

Sallal Water Distict Business Manager Paul Tredway told him that that the Valley is stymied by the fact that it’s too often a pass-through for tourists rather than a destination. His solution: to build an anchor hotel with reasonable prices. To do that, the Valley needs support from King County, Tredway said.

Constantine told business owners that they have an advantage over cities filled with chain stores. For him, vintage buildings and revived sites such as the Northwest Railway Museum’s Snoqualmie Depot are a strength.

“Putting them in the front and center of your town is key,” he said.

“Tourism is a biggie that we just haven’t quite connected the dots on yet,” said Snoqualmie Valley Chamber Executive Director Fritz Ribary, who pointed to eco-tourism at sites such as the former Weyerhaeuser mill as a way forward.

“A lot of people who view this area from Seattle would say “Don’t change anything, don’t let anything else grow out there,’” he said. Appreciative of the local lifestyle, Ribary said residents don’t want to lose the area’s character, but also want the opportunity to grow.

“There’s a lot of money to invest here in terms of just being Seattle’s backyard,” Constantine said. “It’s finding out how we can bring in resources to fill in the gaps... (and) make it an experience for people so it can generate some serious business.”

Heritage tourism

Constantine traveled with North Bend officials to trailheads at Mount Si and Little Si. Those sites could be shuttered due to budget cuts at the state level, but North Bend’s mayor, Ken Hearing, is seeking state support to maintain access and the flow of tourism.

“Hundreds of thousands of people climb Mount Si a year,” Constantine said. “They’re stopping in North Bend and Snoqualmie and spending money. That’s critical.”

In Snoqualmie, Mayor Matt Larson took Constantine on a tour of the soon-to-be-renovated downtown core, up to the Interstate 90 interchange, where Snoqualmie hopes to grow and add new services, and to the Northwest Railway Museum’s growing campus.

For Larson, the museum’s heritage tourism efforts would help the entire area prosper.

“The more momentum builds, the more successful it will be,” he said. “It will create more success.”

Museum Director Richard Anderson questioned the future of funding for 4Culture, the county’s heritage and cultural grant arm.

“They’re not our biggest funder, but in many ways they’re our most important, because they’re often the first to get on board,” he said.

Constantine said the state legislature is considering directing hospitality taxes back to the county, allowing it to bridge cultural funding through 2020.

How to help? “Call your legislators,” he said.

Lower Valley economy

Constantine grew up in West Seattle, but spent time with his Boy Scout Troop building the suspension bridge at Carnation’s Tolt-MacDonald Park. He had a chance to revisit that site, escorted by Grumman and members of the Carnation City Council.

“A lot of people in Carnation live their lives outdoors,” Grumman said. “It’s not a fast-paced life. Over and over, every survey we do, we get the same feedback from the community: keep it the way it is.”

With 1,900 residents, Carnation is increasingly concerned with sustainability, struggling to grow while maintaining its small-town identity.

Residents are now paying more than $100 a month for sewer, but see empty storefronts downtown, Grumman said.

At the same time, many thousands of people visit the Carnation area for events and nature, but “they don’t stop. It’s been a huge challenge to get these folks to come to town.”

Carnation needs to commit itself to an identity, Grumman said. She asked for the county’s help in supporting local farmers and building trail connections.

Flood survey

Carnation Councilman Fred Bereswill asked for Constantine’s help in starting a Snoqualmie basin-wide flood study. Calls for a new study were prompted by record flooding in 2009.

“Flooding became a major concern last year, when we were an island for 48 hours,” Bereswill said. “The Tolt levy failed on both sides of the river. Longtime residents never remember water being that high in the city.”

With plans under way by Puget Sound Energy to lower the Snoqualmie Falls dam, Bereswill encouraged Constantine to take a broad view of watershed impacts.

“When you have development upstream, how does that affect us downstream?” he said.

“What are folks in North Bend going to say when I go see them later this afternoon?” Constantine asked.

“I don’t know,” Bereswill replied.

Ken Carter, Carnation Interim City Manager, said Carnation understands Snoqualmie’s efforts to minimize flooding in that city by lowering the dam. But he questioned whether the gradual watershed impacts of growth in the upper Valley are making a bigger difference.

“We’re dying by a thousand cuts,” Bereswill said. He suggested that it is time for all Valley cities to work together to halt flooding.

“Years ago, the cities in the Valley were very parochial. It was ‘us versus the rest of them,’” he said. “Folks, lets get on with it. We’re all in the same boat.”

Constantine suggested involving the Snoqualmie Tribe, as well.

“It looks like your city is more vulnerable to flooding than, maybe, any,” he said.

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