Downtown Kennewick: creating a sense of place

If the last two years of the Covid pandemic have taught us anything, it has demonstrated that active, livable downtowns don’t just happen. It takes a comprehensive approach coupled with professional leadership, collective coordination with partners and dedicated volunteers to ensure success. This is the role of the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership (HDKP).

Our organization is a volunteer-governed nonprofit with a small staff. We are a Washington state and nationally-accredited Main Street program focused on the continued revitalization and regeneration of downtown Kennewick. We strive to make the downtown area an exciting place to live, shop, work and play. With our partners, the business community and stakeholders, we facilitate projects that create a stronger and more vibrant community through memorable experiences and opportunities.

Downtown Kennewick is home to hundreds of small businesses. Closing streets for special events in 2021 brought thousands of new visitors to the historic heart of Kennewick. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

Downtown Kennewick is a resilient community. We are home to hundreds of small, locally-owned-and-operated businesses. Despite the challenges of the last two years, we have seen and supported exciting new public and private investments downtown.

Here are a few accomplishments that we are proud of in 2021:

  • We expanded and refined our Alfresco Downtown Kennewick program from a piloted street closure first implemented in 2020 into a monthly Saturday Street Festival series of events. Starting in July and ending with our Halloween event, this series brought over 12,000 visitors to downtown. Downtown merchants reported increased sales and new customers during these events. Coordinating street closures enabled downtown merchants and food-based businesses to expand outside; it opened up downtown to pedestrian traffic; and it provided opportunities for pop-up entrepreneurs. Downtown Kennewick is a great place to hold events and outdoor gatherings in our community.
  • We successfully operated the Downtown Kennewick Farmers Market despite experiencing the second year of Covid-19 restrictions and limitations. We were able to double our total vendor count to 40. Our biggest growth of the market was in the expansion of EBT and SNAP benefits redemption (Farmers market nutrition programs, including a fresh fruits and veggies match incentive program). This program helps connect fresh, farm produce to customers who need it most. In 2022, we will continue to grow our intimate, neighborhood market as we bring back themed days, live music and launch youth farm nutrition education programming.
  • Consistent weekly and monthly events and downtown programming brought more than 30,000 people to downtown over the course of 2021. Events and programming create vibrancy and vitality that make a community feel like an active and exciting place to be whether you are a customer, business or resident.
  • After the isolation of 2020, we recognized that it was vital to communicate the assets and amenities of downtown Kennewick, especially its historic business district and its growing waterfront. We were thrilled to collaborate with the Port of Kennewick to produce two, 30-second TV commercials as part of our “Discover Downtown Kennewick” campaign. We filmed in the Historic Downtown Kennewick Business District, at Columbia Gardens and on Clover Island with these ads airing during the summer. You can still enjoy these ads on our YouTube page, just search “Historic Kennewick.” In 2021 HDKP invested nearly $20,000 in marketing downtown on a combination of TV, radio, social media and print platforms.
  • A cornerstone of our comprehensive downtown revitalization strategy is to develop and provide people with opportunities to safely come together and engage with the community in our downtown. HDKP was one of four Washington Main Street community programs to receive the Washington Main Street Place Activation Grant, designed to assist communities with Covid-19 recovery, economic growth and resilience through activating public spaces that can support small businesses, enhance the quality of life for residents, and restore vitality. Our place activation project took place over the summer in Flag Plaza, home of the farmers market. This site, renamed Avenue Square, represents our vision to evolve this parking lot into a public space that is accessible, dynamic and multifunctional to our community needs with expanded programming and responsible community gathering opportunities. Overall, this pilot demonstrated that downtown will benefit from a committed space to foster gatherings and events and that there is a market for hosting food trucks in the heart of downtown.
  • We are excited to continue to develop Avenue Square as a place to gather downtown. This development will be continued in 2022 with funds from the Washington State Community Projects Fund for $48,000 to expand the electrical infrastructure at Avenue Square so that the space can grow to support multiple food trucks, electric vehicle charging, additional lighting, live music and public Wi-Fi. These investments will expand opportunities for entrepreneurship and connecting communities downtown.
  • Our crowning achievement in 2021 is our partnership with the city of Kennewick for the successful bid to designate downtown Kennewick as a state Certified Creative District.

The South Columbia Creative District (SOCO) was officially designated in October. Downtown Kennewick is now officially recognized as a hub for creativity and creative enterprise. Kennewick now houses one of the 11 Creative Districts in the entire state and is the only one in Southeastern Washington.

This certification is an opportunity to recognize downtown Kennewick as the creative and artistic heart of the city while promoting current established creative industries. This designation will help promote, connect and unify the many downtown Kennewick anchors as a rich, creative community that reflects Kennewick’s history and embraces its diverse population. This unified creative identity is bolstered by the ongoing public investments made by the city of Kennewick and the Port of Kennewick toward connectivity within downtown, such as the recent Washington Street Corridor Project and the reconnection of Auburn Street to 10th Avenue.

Downtown Kennewick is resilient and evolving and HDKP will continue to implement a balance of activities in the areas of community development, economic vitality and infrastructure investments to support downtown businesses, building owners and our community.

Stephanie Button is the executive director of the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership.

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