Young Johnson, president of the board of the Port Angeles Downtown Association, stands at the top of the Laurel Street stairs overlooking much of the downtown area Saturday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles Downtown Association surprised by chamber director comments, board chief says

PORT ANGELES — Members of the Port Angeles Downtown Association were caught by surprise by a top city business leader’s suggestion that the organization should consider revamping its structure and mission, PADA board President Young Johnson said.

Marc Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, told a meeting audience Wednesday that the PADA should “reinvent itself” and become a Business Improvement Area (BIA) instead of a Parking Business and Improvement Area (PBIA).

The PBIA has existed for 32 years and focuses on parking maintenance, which the PADA no longer does.

“I feel the general opinion is that people are confused as to why personal opinion was introduced at an information-only presentation, but that being said, the chamber and all its endeavors, we support fully,” Johnson said Friday.

The PADA has 154 business-owner members who pay a square-footage fee averaging about $200 a year to fund the PBIA, which in turn supports the downtown association.

“We are vibrant, we are growing, we are working on ways to increase park benches, we’ve had discussion on restroom facilities, we are a very active board,” Johnson said.

“But we would not guess or make assumptions as to how another organization should operate.

“This is not something that the Port Angeles Downtown Association board has discussed.

“We will again attempt to bring it to a downtown association meeting where its membership can openly discuss it in a downtown association function.”

Abshire stressed Friday that the bulk of his presentation was informational and that he gave his opinion at the end of the meeting in response to comments from the nine breakfast meeting participants, five of whom were PADA board members, not including Johnson.

During the meeting, Abshire said the PADA does not have to be a PBIA anymore.

It could consider revamping its rate structure and extending its boundaries to stretch east up U.S. Highway 101 toward the city limit rather than being confined to the downtown core.

“It’s yours to do what you want to do,” he told the participants.

Abshire also was critical of the way things stand now with the PBIA, which has not funded parking maintenance since 2015.

“A lot of downtown business owners over the last 32 years have taken a run at getting this program to work, and for whatever reason, they haven’t been very successful in making it work,” Abshire said.

Toward the end of the meeting, he said the downtown association “needs to stop and start again new, needs to be branded differently, needs to be thought out differently, needs to be a BIA and not a PBIA.”

The PBIA managed by the downtown association in the city’s core district generates quarterly fees from entrepreneurs based on square footage that is managed by the city and distributed to the PADA.

The $36,178 collected in 2016 covered expenditures for events such as the fall-season Arts &Draughts Beer &Wine Festival, the downtown Christmas tree lights and signage grants.

Abshire said a Business Improvement Area could do the same thing.

Tacoma’s Downtown BIA pays solely for street-sweeping and police services, according to www.tacomabia.org.

“It’s slightly concerning because BIAs to a degree are nonspecific,” Johnson said, noting the absence of state laws covering specifically BIAs.

Abshire said Friday that the same statute that covers PBIAs covers BIAs.

“Clearly, that [RCW] 35.87A is a BIA statute, and that’s how I briefed it to folks there on Wednesday,” he said.

“We are ready to help the downtown merchants figure it out, and they have many options that are available,” Abshire said, adding that the city ordinance should more explicitly describe the functions of the downtown association.

“I was suggesting in the Q-and-A a better idea to change the focus, name, title and everything about it, so everyone understands what they are paying into and why.

“Merchants are paying into a parking BIA, and they don’t understand why they are doing that.”

Downtown merchants, he added, “need a long-distance strategy and purpose.”

Seattle has nine BIAs, according to the city of Seattle’s website at www.seattle.gov.

BIAs are authorized under the same state law as PBIAs, according to the website, which includes The BIA Handbook (http://tinyurl.com/PDN-BiaHandbook).

“Business Improvement areas are funding mechanisms for business district revitalization and management,” according to the website.

“They are assessments on businesses and/or properties within defined boundaries. The funds collected are used to provide services for the mutual benefit of the businesses and properties being assessed.”

The Seattle BIAs focus on sanitation, security, marketing and business development, with some also sponsoring events.

Nathan West, city community and economic development director, said it was important that businesses get value for what they pay in fees under a PBIA or BIA.

“The flexibility is already there today relative to a PBIA,” he said. “Again, it comes down to what businesses want and need.

“Promotions, marketing, all of those things you can do under the existing format and structure.”

Johnson suggested Friday that dramatic changes were not needed in the PADA.

“We have a mission statement that we believe in very strongly,” she said.

“The PBIA works, and we have to make the most of it.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel.

“We need to look at the wheel and make a turn.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.