Downtown business owners worried about proposed public plaza

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Molly Carroll co-owns the Sports Center restaurant and bar. It borders the lot that's set to lose hundreds of parking spaces.

"We don't depend on four...six...eight customers finding a place to park," said Carroll. "We depend on a large group of people to come."

A large group that needs a place to park.

Yakima City Manager Tony O'Rourke says the City has alternatives. These include leasing and licensing parking space from nearby business and parking garages. That plan could cost Yakima a thousand dollars a month. And you may need to walk a little farther to get to your destination.

"I don't think there will be a lack of parking, but the parking will be slightly away," said O'Rourke. "And, the public has to accommodate us in that."

Business owners are concerned about customers and employees walking a long distance in the dark. O'Rourke has suggested security escorts.

Carroll, however, was skeptical. "It's one thing to say that and sometime it's quite a different thing to actually have that take place."

Mark Peterson owns H&H Furniture downtown. He has his own reservations when it comes to the addition of a plaza: "I'm not quite sold on it yet. It seems like we have to blow up the village to save the village, so I don't know if that's the best plan, but it sounds like it's still a working plan."

But not every business owner is dubious. Katherine Goodson has a wine business that borders the parking lot. She welcomes a downtown gathering place.

"One thing though that we really want to look at for the future is that tourism is what's going to bring the community together," said Goodson. "We need those dollars to thrive."

To thrive...a common goal among every business owner. But what will be the key. A plaza? Or parking?

And on Tuesday evening city council held a heated public hearing on the downtown master plan.

The public hearing brought dozens of people out to speak, not even enough space for everyone in council chambers.

Downtown business owners were especially concerned with how eliminating the parking spaces would impact their business.

"I think your intentions are really, I think you really believe in downtown Yakima, I believe that but no one has tried to bring us into the conversation," said one business owner.

"There is a difference between people and customers. Gettting a lot of people downtown does not equate into sales of customers," said another business owner.

Comments from the public carried on for nearly two hours.