Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce envisions five-year downtown plan

Study includes look at three similar cities, director says

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce has begun the visioning phase of a five-year plan for the city’s downtown, Executive Director Marc Abshire said.

A survey will be emailed this week to downtown merchants and property owners to help guide the chamber-led, city-funded plan called Elevate Port Angeles 2026.

“We’re just trying to get a handle on the current state, and that will set us up for talking about what’s possible in the future,” Abshire said Monday.

Survey respondents will be asked to identify assets and key challenges for the downtown business district.

This spring, the chamber will host virtual and possibly in-person meetings with stakeholders and the broader community to flesh out a long-term vision for the central business district.

“It’s probably going to take five years to make really significant headway toward that vision, so that’s why we’re setting our sights on 2026 to actually achieve some of the goals with the vision that’s being created,” Abshire said.

The city of Port Angeles is funding the $45,000 project with Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA) fees. The chamber is expected to deliver a final report to the City Council in August.

Elevate Port Angeles 2026 was inspired by unprecedented growth in the downtown area, including the $50 million Field Arts & Events Hall under construction, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s planned $25 million upscale hotel and a developer’s planned seven-story residential-commercial building and parking structure.

“We realize that what we have here is just an incredible opportunity,” Abshire told the City Council on Jan. 5.

“The last time something this big happened in downtown Port Angeles was when they sluiced the hogback.”

Downtown Port Angeles was raised by up to 15 feet in 1914 by sluicing soil from the adjacent hill.

“That was over 100 years ago,” Abshire said.

“The amount of investment and the amount of change that’s happening really begs for us to get everybody together and find our future for ourselves.”

Abshire and past chamber president Jim Haguewood briefed the City Council on the downtown planning project Jan. 5.

Three revitalized downtowns were used as possible examples for Port Angeles. The case studies were Astoria, Ore., Longmount, Colo., and Oak Harbor.

“They were very relevant to who we are in regards to geography, in regards to certain community assets,” Haguewood said.

A chamber steering committee met last week to study Longmount, which created an arts an entertainment district around a federal highway (287) that cuts through the middle of the downtown.

“It’s kind of similar to what we have with logging trucks going though our downtown,” Abshire said Monday.

“They basically converted their alleyways from utility corridors, like we currently have, and turned alleyways into attractive, lighted, pedestrian-friendly clean walkways.

“We’re not saying that’s the way we’ll do it,” Abshire added, “but we’re just looking at other solutions.”

The chamber steering committee has held six virtual meetings since the project began last September. Community input will be broadened as the visioning phase takes shape, Abshire said.

“We never are going to stop with the research, but we’re definitely kicking off the visioning phase,” Abshire said Monday.

“The first part of it is outreach to the community on their views about the ways things are.”

The 11-question survey for downtown business and property owners will be emailed today and posted on the chamber’s website, www.portangeles.org, Abshire said.

As part of its research, the chamber obtained cell phone data that showed many tourists traveling to Olympic National Park avoid downtown Port Angeles.

“We think it’s very interesting, and it’s a big part of our foundational phase of learning, researching and trying to understand the current state,” Abshire said of the Buxton platform that the city had purchased.

City Council member Mike French, a downtown merchant who also serves on the chamber board, said community buy-in would be key to the project’s success.

“Our community needs to have buy-in that tourism is a viable industry,” French added.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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