Issaquah’s Olde Town will soon be getting a makeover designed to boost foot traffic for small businesses and make venturing downtown a more memorable experience for all.
And at an open house on March 11 at the Historic Issaquah Train Depot, community members got the chance to see a preview of the new plans and to give the city their input.
The event was the last of three open houses between the city and residents to talk over the Downtown Streetscape plan. City Economic Development Manager Andrea Snyder said that the feedback shared in the past two open houses was taken into account and used to form the current design.
“This open house was about synthesizing all of those ideas and feedback, saying, ‘Did we hear you right?’” Snyder said.
In 2015, the Issaquah City Council adopted a goal to “identify and execute an immediate public investment opportunity for the Olde Town that will help enhance Olde Town’s vitality.” A task force formed of business owners, property owners and residents determined that the city needed to redo its downtown streets to make the Olde Town a place that people did not simply rush to get through.
“It needs to be designed as a place people want to linger … where they can bump into their neighbors,” Snyder said. If people have to go to the trouble to fight the traffic to get downtown, she said, “Let’s make sure it’s a quality experience.”
The Streetscape plan features a whole host of different elements, including wider sidewalks along Front Street and Rainier Boulevard, enhanced crosswalks along Front and Sunset Way and a new crosswalk in front of Village Theatre, additional trees and landscaping, more outdoor seating opportunities and an all-direction crosswalk at Front and Sunset.
“The wider sidewalks are huge, especially to the restaurants,” said Keith Watts, president of the Downtown Issaquah Association and a member of the Olde Town Vitality Task Force. “It makes for a more pedestrian-friendly downtown.”
According to the plan, Alder Street would become a festival street, meaning it would become pedestrian-only during special occasions and would be decorated with hanging lights to create an outdoor celebration space. A parklet in front of the Issaquah Brew House in place of one parking spot would allow diners to sit alongside Sunset Way in nice weather.
“The number-one thing people want to see back is the street trees,” said Ida Ottesen of Nakano Associates, the Seattle architecture firm that is working with the city on the plan. She said that the suggested street plants, most of which are native to the Issaquah Alps, would be “introducing the surrounding hillside,” to downtown.
“I’m looking forward to some of these changes,” said Larry Franks, a 44-year resident of Issaquah and a volunteer at Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Franks was especially excited at the idea of a redone sidewalk outside of FISH, including new plants, signage and benches.
“The front [of the hatchery] needs better exposure to the public,” he said. “Cleaning that up will help considerably with access.”
He did say that he was not a fan of the parklet in front of the brewery because of the lost parking.
“Anything that takes up street parking needs to be offset,” he said.
Jeff Tanka, who has lived in Issaquah for 26 years and crossed the intersection at Front and Sunset “hundreds of times,” said that he was most looking forward to the all-direction crosswalk.
“It’s fantastic because it’s a hub for downtown,” said Tanka, who has seen successful all-direction crosswalks all over the world. “It’s moving people all at once, there are less people standing around the corners, the safety concerns of the pedestrians and cars are limited. You get people where they want to go.”
Others were not so enthused about the design.
“I think they should be fixing traffic instead of putting all of this in,” said Angela Bartholomaus of Issaquah. “Parking and traffic are the problem. I like greenery, but what’s the point if people can’t get there?”
Bartholomaus said that it has taken her an hour to get from the Home Depot on East Lake Sammamish Parkway to her home on May Valley Road.
“They’re missing the whole point of what’s needed,” she said. “Front Street is already cute, but you can’t even get there.”
“Some of it seems wasteful,” said Lorna Robertson of Issaquah, who was upset to see some parking spaces removed in the design. “You can’t get out of your car to see how lovely it is … You can’t get around the fact that you need a place to park to begin with.”
Ottesen said that actually, the city will be “taking out very little parking.”
“I think this is long overdue,” said Deputy Council President Mary Lou Pauly, who recently announced a mayoral campaign this fall. “Olde Town sets Issaquah aside from other cities. It’s time to make it a place where people want to stay and hang out.”
Those who did not make it to the open house can still view the Streetscape design and share their thoughts with the city in a survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/draftStreetscapeplan. The survey must be completed by Friday, March 17.
The plan is scheduled to be presented to the City Council at the March 20 meeting, and to come back with a cost estimate to be approved by the council in April.