When Mayor Rob McFarland first moved to North Bend about 25 years ago, the city’s downtown core was riddled with empty storefronts and looked like so many other communities that had seen an interstate highway pass them by.
But prior to the pandemic, as McFarland was driving into City Hall each morning, it was noticeable that after years of progress, residents were out and virtually all the city storefronts were full.
“My first feeling when COVID hit was oh no, we’re going to lose it all,” he said. “I saw that this community really pulled together — to me, a sign of what a small town can really do to support itself.”
During his annual State of the City address in front of the city council on March 1, McFarland said the city is still dealing with the now two-year-long health crisis, but has emerged in great shape and accomplished several of its long-term goals in 2021.
“Despite other difficulties — whether it was related to snow events or trash collection, or what have you — the city accomplished a lot of things for its citizens last year,” he said. “We made major studies across the board.”
Financially, the city’s revenues returned in record levels in 2021, after a significant dip in sales tax revenue due to pandemic health restrictions the prior year. Last year, the city also saw several of its annual events return in-person and will see its biggest downtown event, Block Party, return this summer.
Over $1 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act came to the city in 2021, and another $1 million will come in 2022. McFarland said those funds will be used over the next several years to support businesses and families impacted by the pandemic.
“I’m seeing the people on the streets, I’m hearing the businesses saying ‘yes, we’re doing good’ — not ‘I’m doing great’ — but they’re doing good,” he said.
The city also saw several housing projects move from the planning to the construction phase last year, as it worked to introduce more housing options outside of single-family houses on large lots. This included the 212 multi-family Cedar River Partners complex, and the 109 Degrees 28-townhome project, which are the first townhomes built in the city since 1992.
The city also began clearing and grading on the new River Run Apartment project that is expected to bring 128 new units, including 28 units with rents restricted at 80% of the area median income. The city also began construction on seven new income-restricted townhomes brought by Habitat for Humanity.
“One of the things that’s frustrated me in the diversion of focusing on COVID and economic impacts is that I haven’t been able to devote as much of my energy to affordable housing as I intended to,” McFarland said. “There is still so much more to do.”
McFarland also highlighted that the city council was recognized by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Commerce with a Smart Communities Award for a form based code in its downtown district that was specifically designed to ensure future development provides a variety of housing and business options.
In another zoning change, the city paved the way to achieve a 30-year-long goal, as it is expected to break ground on an approximately 120-room hotel later this year.
“That’s another one of those items that all the way back to my arrival here in the community I heard about on a regular basis,” he said.
McFarland also highlighted the city’s new wastewater treatment plant and improved water infrastructure, the city council’s investments in sidewalk and road improvements, the new Dahlgren Family Park and improved connectivity projects.
Looking into 2022, McFarland said his number one priority is beginning the formation of the Meadowbrook Utility Local Improvement District (ULID), which would start the process of introducing a sewer in the neighborhood. He said that could come before the council as soon as this month, although the completion of the whole project will take years.
He said he also wants to improve transportation options and relieve congestion in downtown, which McFarland said will help local businesses and walkability.
In closing, McFarland expressed with confidence that he expects only the best for 2022.
“Our community has preserved through two years of historic pandemic times,” he said. “This beautiful small mountain town will continue to be the unique, vibrant place that we are lucky enough to call home.”