Wenatchee and East Wenatchee Mayors Present “State of the Cities”
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz and East Wenatchee Mayor Jerrilea Crawford reflected on their work in local government and addressed issues pertaining to their cities during the “Coffee & Commerce: State of the Cities” presentation Friday.
At 8 a.m., roughly 20 attendees gathered in Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce’s wine tasting bar room on 137 N. Wenatchee Ave., Suite 101.
Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steven Wilkinson began the discussion by asking both mayors if there was anything the community needed to know about their cities.
Kuntz shared that the next mayor will have a new set of problems during that time, with the City of Wenatchee expected to grow by 3,500 residents by 2030.
“[Wenatchee] will be done growing and people are still going to want to move here, so then the growth happens in the counties, not the cities.” Kuntz later added, “If you care about the urban area and you care about your cities being successful, that math is going to change and it's going to change right in front of your eyes.”
Kuntz then reflected on some of the big capital projects the city has been working on, such as the 5th Street Redevelopment project, the Confluence Parkway project, remodeling Wenatchee City Hall, and park improvements to Lincoln Park.
Crawford reflected on the ARPA funds the city granted to local nonprofits and businesses, along with an update on the new East Wenatchee Police Department facility, with the final move-in scheduled for mid-March.
When asked about challenges both cities faced, Crawford said that staffing remained to be a concern for everyone involved along with an increase in theft.
“I think regulations have made it really challenging for our businesses and our community, not necessarily city regulations, but what we are facing from the state side,” Crawford said. “[We’re] trying to be an advocate for our businesses as we go to Olympia and talk, [about] supporting or not supporting different legislative bills that will help our community so that our economy can be strong.”
Kuntz said the city has been working on relieving traffic congestion in north Wenatchee by making the Confluence Parkway project a reality, stating that traffic could get worse if it doesn’t get built.
He also said he wants to continue developing and making improvements to the downtown sector, and that the next mayor will need to decide on whether they want to hire someone specifically for downtown economic development.
Both mayors mentioned the work done on the two Safe Parks near Ohme Garden, a joint effort from both cities to address homelessness within the valley.
“It is working, it's slow, and it's very, very painful,” Crawford said. “We want it solved and we want to get everyone into housing immediately, but it's not something that happens overnight.”
“We still have what I call the wanderers, you know who they are, and they wander through town and some of them have drug and alcohol addictions,” Kuntz said. “Our police do their best to deal with them but their hands are tied a little bit under what state law allows us to do.”
When asked about future economic growth, Crawford mentioned the incubator spaces being built near Pangborn Airport, but stated that the city would need to expand into Douglas County in order to bring in more economic development.
“It's going to be important for the city to be able to grow our boundaries and meet that need because we just don't have room to do a lot of new development for business or residential in East Wenatchee.”
Kuntz said that the city intends to keep conditions within the city favorable for businesses in order to encourage more capital investments.
“If you make it cool for Weidner to build apartments, somebody else can come and build apartments. If you make it cool for somebody to do something downtown, someone else is going to want to come.”
Both mayors agreed that all governing bodies within the Wenatchee Valley region will need to work together in order to keep their momentum going, noting the Microsoft data center developments in Malaga and 12th-District Sen. Brad Hawkins’ proposed Regional Aquatic Center and Sportsplex as examples.
Wilkinson shared a statistic that estimated that half of the Wenatchee Valley population will be Latino/a by 2030, and asked what the cities are doing in order to ensure the Latino/a demographic feels represented.
“I think we just try to keep them engaged,” Kuntz said. “We're fortunate we have one city council member who fits that criteria, we probably need to have a second. I know the school board's got somebody elected in office.”
Kuntz was referring to Wenatchee City Councilmember Jose Luis Cuevas and Wenatchee School Board President Maria Iñiguez.
Kuntz said his administration has been working on making improvements to the south Wenatchee area such as park and street maintenance and will keep engaging on matters important to the Latino/a community.
Crawford said her administration has been continuously embracing diversity within the city, referencing Pangborn’s Festival of Flight homage to Japanese culture, along with working with the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center on celebrating Native-American culture in City Hall.
“I will never proclaim to know everything and how we can do it best,” Crawford said. “We can listen, we can learn, and we can try and add those things to our communities so that people feel like they belong and they're important and we're doing all the right things for everyone.”