Raising a brow over a prow

Record Editorial

North Bend has a dilemma. No, this one isn’t dealing with a council that can’t seem to agree on community volunteers, but rather the lack of a vibrant downtown.

Driving through downtown North Bend and looking at the empty store fronts is depressing at best. Only through the efforts of some extremely determined business owners currently residing downtown is there any hope for the future.

Recently North Bend City Councilman Mark Sollitto proposed an ordinance to deal with the broken prow (the corner section of the building nearest the intersection) on the old car dealership building at the corner of North Bend Way and Bendigo, also referred to as the Sunset Garage. He wanted to enforce an ordinance passed in 2000 that deals with derelict properties within the city limits. The idea behind the ordinance is to force the building’s owner to improve the safety or appearance of their building, realizing that poor safety or unsightly appearance has a negative effect on adjacent properties and the whole downtown in this case.

The prow of the building has been hit several times by semi-trucks through the years because frankly, it’s too close to the intersection. In addition, there is no signage downtown of any consequence that directs truck traffic through town giving drivers other less hazardous options for returning to Interstate 90.

Councilman Sollitto does have a point in doing what needs to be done regarding this building in particular. It is a building that can’t be missed as part of our downtown. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it was a pretty good plan. But since the introduction of the proposal, the building’s owner has fixed the damage. Mr. Sollitto decided to table the proposal at the last council meeting due to the repairs, much to the objections of Mayor pro tem Bill Wittress, who ranted it was a safety hazard.

But the problem of a lack of downtown vibrancy has not gone away. So what will make businesses and shoppers come to downtown? The answer is obvious, though not simple: water. The council, along with city staff, needs to continue the dogged pursuit of water rights if downtown is to improve.

The market will drive improvements to downtown once there is water. Water will allow building owners to solicit tenants who will want to do improvements and ultimately, drive more consumers downtown. Regulation can’t make downtown a more inviting place for consumers and business owners. The desire to do business and provide consumers what they want will drive the changes.

But it was nice to see Councilman Sollitto take a stand on an issue and it was nice to see him take it off the table when something had been done. Nobody wants to affect the potential livelihood of a resident in a negative manner. Only through a willingness to work with downtown building and business owners can any real positive change occur as is evident when Dale and Susan Sherman renovated the McGrath building.

Some may say that building owners have had their chance to make reasonable improvements and that the city should move forward. I think that is a reasonable approach to some extent, after the water moratorium is lifted. Dwelling on the past is useless, what is really needed is to look forward. Pushing for change through governmental pressure might be a solution at some point if building and business owners are not reasonable in their efforts, but it should only be a last resort and only if the market is there to make improvements.

Water is the key and the rest should fall into place. It is reasonable to expect change once water is available.