Leader of downtown Pasco group out as board assesses next steps

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gomez

Gustavo Gutierrez Gomez has left the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, the nonprofit group that operates the Pasco Specialty Kitchen, Pasco Farmers Market and puts on Cinco de Mayo, Pasco Fiery Foods Festival and more.

Gabriel Portugal, president of the board, said Gutierrez Gomez departed effective July 31. Portugal praised his work but said his vision did not line up with what the board of directors wanted for downtown.

“After some conferences, we came to a mutual agreement that it was best for him to leave,” Portugal said. “He did outstanding work for us.”

Gutierrez Gomez was appointed to the nonprofit position in 2019, succeeding interim leader Damien Davis who in turn succeeded Luke Hallowell a year earlier.

Gutierrez Gomez, 46, countered that he was fired by Portugal and a representative of the city’s human resources department on July 13 after he challenged the city over its involvement with the Main Street tax credit program, which is supposed to fund downtown upgrades by selling tax credits to investors.

Gutierrez Gomez acknowledged he had informed the board this spring that he would be seeking a new job that paid benefits, which his $88,000-a-year executive director position did not. Insurance and other benefits became an issue after his daughter was injured.

He said he did not resign or sign any document indicating that he was leaving voluntarily. Gutierrez Gomez said he intended to remain at the helm of DPDA in a part-time capacity to help the nonprofit save money.

Portugal said Guiterrez Gomez is free to speak as he pleases, but his board stood behind its statement that the former director’s vision did not match where it wanted to go.

Gutierrez Gomez brought nine years of experience working on downtown revitalization efforts in Oregon to the job. He said his charge was to seek outside funding for the organization so it wouldn’t rely on the city.

He succeeded in securing local and federal funding as well as grants from the Three Rivers Community Foundation, Group Health Foundation, Seattle Foundation and the State of Washington as well as from local organizations.

But he clashed with the city about the Main Street program. He said he took over a broke organization with three employees and left one that had 11.

He said he was proud of DPDA’s work to distribute $1.3 million in partnership with the city in Covid-19 relief funds to small Pasco businesses, most led by people who speak Spanish as a first language.

“You have to have the cultural competency. The DPDA will always be a success to me,” he said.

Portugal said DPDA is reevaluating its options before it seeks a permanent replacement for the post.

In the interim, the authority is focused on the Pasco Farmers Market, Pasco Specialty Kitchen and the cultural events it stages, such as Cinco de Mayo and Fiery Foods Festival. The board recently canceled the 2021 Fiery Foods Festival over concern about Covid-19 and the region’s low vaccination rates, Portugal said.

DPDA is a nonprofit with an annual budget of about $500,000, according to its 2019 report to the Internal Revenue Service, the most recent available. At the time, it relied chiefly on tax dollars and some earned revenue for programs, including rents, to sustain itself.

It also runs the Main Street tax credit program in Pasco, in which investors purchase tax credits that support architectural, cultural and human events that strengthen Main Streets across the U.S. Washington state is awarding up to $5 million in Main Street tax credits beginning Oct. 1 with applications available at preservewa.org/taxcredit.

The Main Street program was responsible for bringing Gutierrez Gomez to the Tri-Cities from Woodburn, Oregon, south of Portland. He had met Pasco representatives at a Main Street conference. When his contract with Woodburn expired, he applied for the post in Pasco and eventually moved.

The organization has struggled to find its footing since 2016, when former director Michael Goines admitted to embezzling at least $90,000 and was sentenced to a year in prison.  

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