Tourist train just a start for Snohomish

  • Fri Jan 29th, 2010 10:46pm
  • News

By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer

SNOHOMISH — City officials want to bring more than a tourist train into their quaint downtown.

How about some costumed greeters to welcome visitors?

Better-marked bicycling routes and walking paths?

Public art along the Snohomish River?

Those ideas and more are included in a 94-point report released on Monday that could act as a blueprint for the historic downtown as the city gears up for the arrival of a tourist train later this year.

GNP Railway of Tacoma plans to start running that train from the wineries of Woodinville to the antiques stores of Snohomish as early as Memorial Day weekend.

“That would be a great goal, you know?” railway operator Tom Payne said. “If you don’t set a time, no one does anything.”

While the train’s arrival is expected this summer, Payne is still ironing out several issues.

For instance, he wants to locate a passenger platform along the train tracks just north of the Snohomish River, allowing riders to disembark within a three-minute walk from the stores, restaurants and drinking establishments of First Street.

That platform would be within the city limits, so Payne needs to enter into an agreement with the city and get permits to build the platform. Both points need city council approval.

While several on the council support the train plans, the group could decide to keep it south of the river, outside town.

“There are some significant steps that need to be completed,” said Ann Stanton, Snohomish’s parks and trails project manager.

Many downtown stores view the train as a way to boost business and hope that happens. Other people are dubious.

Doug Smith lives in a condominium that looks out on the tracks. He worries the tourist train will open the city up to freight traffic. He also doubts the train will be the economic boon some claim.

“I can’t imagine spending money to come to Snohomish now, so I’m not sure it’s going to succeed,” he said.

Both of his points — freight traffic and tourism — are being reviewed by city officials.

In the fall, the city council hired a Dallas attorney who specializes in federal railway law. Many in city staff and on the council now feel confident they can craft an agreement that lets the tourist train in and keeps freight traffic out.

“That’s been our legal advice to date,” Stanton said.

As for the economic impact, city officials said the train already is sparking interest from entrepreneurs to come to downtown Snohomish, a neighborhood included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Debbie Emge, the city’s economic development manager, said she is in active talks with three potential business owners right now. All are curious about opportunities presented by the train.

Emge also is sifting through the 94-point visitor readiness report. That document, prepared by the Oregon consultant company Total Destination Management, was commissioned for $7,500 by Historic Downtown Snohomish, a nonprofit group representing downtown businesses.

“We need to be visitor-ready anyway,” said Debbie Carlson-Gould, manager for Historic Downtown Snohomish “This is a good time to do it.”

Emge and Carlson-Gould will sit on a five-person committee that will use the report as a jumping-off point to improve the city as a tourist destination.

Some of those improvements could take time. Big-dollar items include reworking street lighting, a project that costs $500,000, Emge said.

The costumed greeters — a way to play up the city’s pioneer heritage — also may take some planning. With money in short supply, the committee could try to organize a volunteer staff recruited from history buffs and retirees.

The report has many quick fixes, though, including improving signage, adding park benches and putting stacks of travel brochures in the hotels and motels of Woodinville and Everett.

“It’s very exciting, actually,” Carlson-Gould said.

Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, arathbun@heraldnet.com.