Ellensburg’s historic downtown is a true treasure — full of interesting buildings with character and charm.
On its own, it’s interesting to look at and it has that small-town feel that gets lost in many American cities that constantly reinvent themselves.
But what makes downtown work, survive and thrive are people. For most of us if we picture a really good time downtown it’s usually when we’re surrounded by people — a summer night at Jazz in the Valley, a Saturday at the farmers market, a gathering such as Moments to Remember or perhaps an impromptu gathering at Unity Park (aka Rotary Pavilion) to mourn and remember, or maybe its tromping through town with your friend group during Brewfest.
It is the combination of people looking to have a good time coming together in a really cool setting that creates that warm, fuzzy feeling we have about downtown Ellensburg.
This attraction was emphasized during the COVID restrictions when restaurants and bars created outdoor spaces, which proved to be popular year round. Not that Ellensburg is in danger of being mistaken for Paris and its sidewalk cafes, but there is vibe to being outside with other people out and about.
All this plays into and helps inform the idea the Ellensburg City Council is considering to transform Pearl Street from Fourth to Fifth avenues into a pedestrian promenade by closing it to traffic.
This is definitely still in the idea stage and the city is seeking public comment through a survey.
A pedestrian promenade is not a new idea. Many other cities have them, in fact an argument can be made that Ellensburg already has one at least on every Saturday morning through afternoon from May to the end of October when Fourth Avenue between Pearl and Ruby is closed to traffic for the Ellensburg Farmers Market.
It is easy enough to block off a street from traffic, but the question that must be answered is what purpose will that serve? What is the vision for that section of Pearl Street without traffic that cannot be achieved while still allowing traffic?
The wildcard in this equation is how does the street closure potentially influence what is done at Unity Park? At some point the city is going to demolish the drive-through structure on that property which should set the stage for developing the property’s future use. Is the vision for Unity Park different if you create even more pedestrian space around it?
Also, if you have that section of Pearl closed, do you move the farmers market to that street or do you have a downtown Ellensburg with three blocks of closure on May-October Saturday morning/afternoons?
People will probably see the proposal as either restricting traffic and parking options or expanding opportunities for creative uses of the downtown. It could do both. It is possible to create an environment where more people will want to go downtown and frequent businesses on that street because no cars are allowed in that area than would go only if they can park directly in front of their destination.
A parking survey the city commissioned a few years ago, indicates the city has more than sufficient parking. People have varied views on parking — some think there is no parking unless they can park directly in front of the business they are frequenting, while others are fine with parking a block away and walking about.
If you are looking for something to think about over the Christmas holiday, give this one some thought and fill out the survey on the city of Ellensburg’s website.