Federal money drives North 1st Street improvements forward

YAKIMA, Wash. -- An area known for crime, prostitution and empty storefronts is the target of a makeover in Yakima. North 1st Street hasn't been the best welcome wagon for tourists visiting Yakima.

As one of the main entrances into town, it leaves a lot to be desired.

"Right now, it's broken everywhere," said hotel manager Hardip Besra. "Things do not look nice. So people, new coming into town, they're not attracted. They're not even coming in to us, just pass by."

Besra said that hurts his business.

"It's a great location but not attractive because the road, sidewalk, no nice trees, no flowers, nothing that attracts the tourists who just come in," Besra said.

Yakima's working to change that. Its vision of a tree-lined thoroughfare is closer than ever.

The city is getting nearly $3 million from the federal government to resurface the street, fix drain issues and improve sidewalks from the Highway 12 interchange down to N Street.

"To get funded for the street project, to actually have some money for construction and to make some of the visions and dreams into realities is a wonderful kickoff," said Yakima City Strategic Projects manager Joan Davenport.

It's part of a bigger effort to revitalize all of North 1st Street.

A major push to not only make the place look better, but to reduce crime and undesirables, creating an environment that not only attracts more people but more business.

That means adding banners, better lights, benches and hiding unsightly power lines.

To cut down on crime, Yakima wants to add emphasis police patrols to make it a place people will feel comfortable walking.

"Just fixing the street will not make it better. There has to be the whole combined effort," said Davenport.

An effort welcomed by people whose livelihoods depend on it.

"It's a big help for the business people," said Besra.

And, a big help for Yakima's reputation.

This is just one phase of the improvement project that's been in the works for years. The project will eventually stretch all the way down to Yakima Avenue.

Yakima is required to match a small amount of the money for the road project. The city anticipates breaking ground on the project next spring.