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City looks to revitalize downtown

ARLINGTON Dozens of business and property owners on Olympic Avenue met with representatives of the University of Washington and Community Capital Development, Jan. 23, to discuss the two groups contracts with the city of Arlington to help revitalize the downtown district.
Suzanne Tessaro, deputy executive director and chief of operations for Community Capital Development in Washington state, summarized the Seattle-based non-profit organizations mission as providing business assistance and financing to small businesses in distressed communities, explaining that the construction that the streets businesses will be dealing with will qualify you as distressed. She elaborated that CCD targets businesses that create livable-wage jobs, develop lifelong transferable skills and create wealth for entrepreneurs.
Tessaro clarified that CCDs administration is roughly divided into training, education and business counseling on one side, with financing and lending covered by the other side, before citing CCDs track record of more than 300 loans made over the course of the past 10 years, amounting to more than $1 million in loans each year.
In addition to this track record, Tessaro claimed that CCDs keys to success lay in its organizational structure, financial partnerships and quality training and underwriting, as she listed CCDs best practices, such as its commitment to partnering with others whenever possible, including colleges and universities, financial institutions and government entities, as well as its assurance that business training and education come first.
Tessaro informed the business owners in attendance that CCD requires business or marketing plans from its entrepreneurs, as well as an in-house ability to develop financial statements, while in return, CCD will make quarterly site visits, keep partners and investors informed of the good and the bad, and graduate its borrowers as soon as possible.
Tessaro pointed to trends toward rural and small city entrepreneurship, as she contended that a new breed of entrepreneur is bypassing big cities in favor of smaller towns, and third-tier cities and towns that once flew under the radar have become thriving hubs for small business, since they boast quality-of-life advantages such as beautiful settings, affordable housing and an attractive lifestyle.
To best serve such micropolitan communities of 25,000 citizens or less, Tessaro emphasized that CCD offers not only small business assistance and access to capital, through a variety of loan programs, but also networking and job creation financing.
Tessaro anticipated that CCD, in partnership with the city of Arlington, should provide a seminar in February on cash flow projection, free to Olympic Avenue businesses, as well as one-on-one assistance in preparing cash flow projection and loan packages, for as many as 10 business owners, with financing for facade improvements to businesses that qualify.
While Tessaro received no questions from any of the attendees, Jill Sterretts presentation on behalf of the University of Washingtons Northwest Center for Livable Communities inspired several inquiries from her audience.
Sterrett reported that the five UW graduate students on the architectural design and technical assistance team had already begun their research into areas such as developing identifying signage for storefronts, rediscovering the original historic appearances of the buildings, mapping out a 1950s-inspired streetscape to compliment the flavor of the downtown district, and devising design guidelines that business and property owners might employ for their refurbished facades.
Sterrett suggested that a uniform style of clearer signage for storefronts would allow passersby to identify the stores more readily, without having to step out into the street to see them, before specifying some of the cosmetic changes that could be made to facades, such as removing awnings and matching their paint schemes to the buildings original color palettes, to recapture their historic architectural styles.
Sterrett likewise expects the UW team to meet with up to 10 business owners in February, to present their findings and recommendations, adding that the team would work with city of Arlington staff to ensure that their design guidelines dovetail with the citys existing requirements.
City of Arlington Capital Projects Manager Paul Ellis and Economic Development Coordinator Vic Ericson fielded many of the questions that followed, with Ellis reassuring the attendees that no parking stalls would be lost after the completion of the North Olympic Avenue Reconstruction Project, and that the street should gain a few stalls.
At the same time, Ellis acknowledged that traffic could be restricted to one lane during construction, but that only one block at a time would be worked on, and the parking lot at the corner of Olympic Avenue and Division Street would be open to the overflow from the stalls on the street that the construction would render unavailable.
Ellis encouraged business and property owners to contact himself and Ericson, by phone or via e-mail, as well as to check the city of Arlingtons Web site for updates, and to attend the downtown district merchants meetings, every Wednesday at 8 a.m.
When asked why only 10 businesses would be covered by the UW and CCD contracts, Ellis clarified that these are pilot programs, that were giving four months to start with, and if they dont work, well stop them and find something that will work.
Ellis refused to speculate how long the construction would take per block, since factors such as weather conditions can affect schedules, but he suspects that construction will begin on the south end of the street, since contractors tend to start at the deepest end first, and Maple has the sewer line.
Ellis promised that the city of Arlington would examine the experiences of cities such as Stanwood and Monroe, to avoid rebuilding the wheel, while emphasizing that a 1950s-style streetscape would not mean that owners of buildings dating earlier or later than that would be compelled to modify their facades to fit that decade.
Were not mandating, Ellis said. This isnt going to be a theme park look. Were just suggesting that property owners look at the architectural features from their buildings eras of origin.
Ellis believes that the city can work with the contractor and the UW team to determine when the best times would be for business and property owners to refurbish their facades, if they choose to do so, without having their efforts damaged or undone by the street construction.
Ellis explained that parties such as the Snohomish County Public Utility District and Community Transit have been involved in the design process, the latter so that bus service will be maintained through the downtown district, while Ericson reported that area bankers have told him that many of the facade improvements can be performed at a ?low cost.?
Ellis assured citizens that the city will be footing the whole bill for this, without a bond issue, which Ericson deemed a significant investment and commitment from the city.
Before the meeting concluded, Ericson added that plans could be finalized for the project design guidelines of the 172nd Street corridor within the next month, pending meetings with Public Works and the Department of Transportation, but conceded that financing is a big issue.
Ellis can be reached by phone at 360-403-4603, or via e-mail at pellis@ci.arlington.wa.us, while Ericson can be reached by phone at 360-403-3475, or via e-mail at vericson@ci.arlington.wa.us. The city of Arlingtons Web site is located at www.ci.arlington.wa.us.

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