County proposes a $10,000 grant for Vashon's economic revitalization

If the King County Council agrees, the University of Washington's architecture school will set up a "storefront studio" in Vashon Town with an eye towards helping merchants and business owners make Vashon's main street more visually appealing and economically vibrant.

County Executive Dow Constantine's staff has put forward 10 economic development grants to stimulate economic revitalization in a number of county communities. On the list is Vashon, which would get $10,000 worth of services from the UW's much-hailed "storefront studio" program — an opportunity for graduate students to open up shop in a community and provide design services that strengthen the authentic character of a community as well as enhance its economic viability.

Ray Moser, Constantine's economic policy advisor and business relations manager, said the county has supported such efforts elsewhere. UW architecture students, he said, have already made a difference in a number of communities and cities, from White Center to Des Moines.

"You really get a storefront studio, where students are there working with the community ... and coming up with some suggested designs that would contribute to the look of the community and contribute to its economic revitalization," Moser said. "It's worked very well elsewhere."

If approved by the county council, the money would come from the King County Economic Enterprise Corp., a public corporation formed in 1984 to issue tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds to foster economic development. That corporation is no longer needed because the state developed a similar economic development authority several years ago, Moser said. The county now wants to dissolve it, freeing up its $95,221 in assets for one-time economic development grants.

The decision to dissolve the public corporation will have to be approved by the nine-member county council, something Moser said he expects the council will do. The council will then decide if the $95,221 in assets should be divvied up the way the executive has proposed, Moser said.

Other grants include $10,000 to the White Center Community Development Association to help with the community's ongoing revitalization efforts; $10,000 to Skyway for the completion of one or more community development plans, and $10,000 to Fall City, for a UW storefront studio similar to the one proposed for Vashon.

Before recommending Vashon as a recipient of the funds, county officials contacted some Vashon community leaders  to get their read on whether such funds might help, Moser said. Natalie Sheard, owner of Cafe Luna and a member of Vashon's Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said she got a call about the proposal and endorsed it.

"In our little downtown strip, I think we could use some improvements," she said.

Merchants have talked a lot about ways to improve the look of Vashon's retail core, she said. "I think our store owners would respond well to this," she added.

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