Summer Plaza to Open on Pine Street in Downtown Centralia

Social Hub: Centralia Downtown Association Spearheads Project

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Pine Street should look livelier this summer.

Thanks to a $3,000 grant from the Washington State Main Street Program and support from the city, the Centralia Downtown Association is moving forward with plans to open a pedestrian-friendly plaza between the Union Depot station and Tower Avenue.

The plaza — which will feature cafe tables, benches, games, live music and other improvements to transform it into a social hub — will open to the public June 19 with a celebration the day prior, said Centralia Downtown Association Executive Director Teri Zambon.

Those with the downtown association who are involved in the project say they’re hoping the plaza attracts droves of pandemic-fatigued locals and out-of-towners hoping to get out and about this summer.

“Measuring the impact of the plaza will help shape future projects. … We want to know how pedestrian traffic, downtown business revenues, and resident and visitor perceptions change as a result of this project,” Zambon said in a news release.

The project was also largely spurred by community interest in reviving the downtown farmers market with hopes for establishing an area for holding local events. The plaza-venue concept could end up becoming a regular feature.

Speaking to The Chronicle last week, Zambon said the Pine Street Plaza project has been thoroughly a community-led effort with Downtown Association Vice President Sarah Althauser leading the charge.

“One of the reasons I think we won the grant money and the assistance is because we had such a diverse group of people looking to do this from the beginning,” she told The Chronicle, noting that Centralia was only one of four organizations that received funding through the Main Street Program’s Place Activation Initiative. “It is really just a great group.”

Zambon noted they’re still in the early stages of drafting a schedule of events and musical performers to play at the plaza, which is expected to feature a constructed stage. The downtown association is also still soliciting support from business partners who would like to assist in sponsoring the event.

Althauser said the impetus for the plaza project came following the closure of the farmers market. She and her husband have been working to make it a reality, and she joined the downtown association’s board with that mission in mind.

“Once when that kind of went away, I think that’s what got us thinking about it. You really need to bring that community back to downtown,” said Althauser, a former elementary school teacher who’s separately running for city council this year. “I’m just big on wanting community, for people to have that community feeling so that we can have that live music and you can support local business, which is a big part.”

The economic impact is an integral part of the project, she said, especially as businesses as a whole begin reopening following last year’s state-mandated closures. Downtown businesses have been relatively supportive of the project, too.

Althauser said the scene of the plaza on a warm, summer evening might look a bit like this: flanked by the train station, trees and flowers adorn the side of the streets as families and friends socialize and eat food at cafe tables and on wooden benches; outdoor cafe lighting brightens the street, hanging from above, as the sky turns orange and light fades; children play outdoor games as musical performers take stage and, perhaps, draw the attention of train passengers as they step off the platform.

The plaza could be a lightning rod for summer shoppers and could be adapted if COVID-19 were to trigger health restrictions.

Staff with the Main Street Program say activating public spaces has been a “critical strategy” in supporting small businesses and communities throughout the pandemic. Last year, 34 projects opened throughout the state with help from the program and more than 342,000 square feet of space was developed with more than $743,000 in design enhancements benefitting nearby businesses.

The Place Activation Initiative grant — which will cover $3,000 in planning facilitation and material and building costs to projects in Centralia, Kennewick, Colville and Prosser — is expected to help give those communities and businesses a bump in return for utilizing those multi-use spaces.

“The design of public spaces, including streets, directly impacts the economic vitality and quality of life in our communities,” said Breanne Durham, Washington Main Street director with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, in a statement. “We believe that pedestrian-focused activation of public spaces is a key strategy for resilient and healthy downtown districts.”

The Pine Street Plaza will be open all summer and will close Oct. 31.