Downtown Covington is booming with new development, but residents who attended an economic development forum hosted by the city want to see more of everything, from restaurants to shops to hotels.
About 50 people, including city officials, attended the forum June 26 at Cedar Heights Middle School.
David Nemens, Covington’s community development director, said the city is taking advantage of the fact that it can now incorporate an economic development element into its comprehensive plan.
“The comprehensive plan is supposed to guide the city’s growth for the next 20 years,” Nemens said. “The city applied for and received a grant from the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to develop an economic development plan. We want, as a community, to help shape the future economic development. We want to assure that this community is economically healthy, that the city is fiscally healthy, that there is a diverse job base (and) living-wage jobs.”
Nemens added that the City Council and officials want input of Covington residents on “what is important and what direction this community should go in.”
Jason Robertson, vice president of Barney and Worth, talked about the work his Olympia-based consulting firm has done and what will happen as the planning process goes forward.
“We want to hear from folks before we get too far down the road in the planning process to make sure we are going in the right direction,” Robertson said. “Economic development is important and makes life convenient, but it’s got to fit into what’s already here. We’re glad to hear you’re keenly aware of those things.”
In an online questionnaire, Robertson said, citizens were asked if the city should be involved, and the overwhelming response was yes.
Eric Hovee, also with Barney and Worth, had given forum participants some background on the community to help guide the discussion.
“This is a family-oriented community,” Hovee said. “If you compare covington with the rest of King County, there’s a high proportion of children under 15.
“The flip side of that is this is a community that doesn’t have a very strong job base relative to its population. The other interesting paradox about this community is that while the incomes of the people who live in this community are relatively high, the incomes of those working in the community is relatively low, which means there are a lot of people commuting.”
Something that came up in the early results of the questionnaire, Robertson said, was the observation that traffic congestion and a need for improved roads could be barriers for economic development in Covington.
“We want to know how to build an economy that lasts,” Robertson said. “We also want examples of businesses that fit. Finally, we want to look at unique opportunities.”
He asked everyone to break up into groups and brainstorm answers to those questions.
“What can you come up with? That’s my favorite question, because you never know what people came up with,” Robertson said.
During the small group discussion, Nemens floated from table to table, listening to the comments.
After discussion concluded, the groups offered answers for the three questions on how to build a lasting economy, examples of businesses that fit and unique opportunities for Covington.
The groups suggested, among other things, to continue to diversify new businesses, develop professional office buildings and improve public transit as ways to build a lasting economy in the city.
Covington residents still want a number of other services and businesses like a cycle shop, furniture stores, REI, Trader Joe’s, a movie theater, hotels, a bowling alley, a book store and even light manufacturing.
One group suggested, as one of the unique opportunities, that the city purchase the Covington Elementary School building “for City Hall and town center.”
Another idea offered was to develop the land behind the Costco that’s under construction by building a community center and park.
Still another suggestion was to establish a farmers market, while other groups urged improving transportation in a variety of ways, including more transit, a park-and-ride and bypass routes around downtown.
Robertson encouraged everyone to fill out the online questionnaire, which can be found on Covington’s Web site at www.ci.covington.wa.us, and to suggest friends and neighbors fill it out, as well.
“We’re going to have a series of public forums,” Robertson told the gathering. “We want to be influenced by you.”
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and email@example.com