by Pia K. Hansen

The Hillyard neighborhood has been a bit of a stepchild for many years. Over the last couple of decades, a strong business district gradually gave up, with only a few bars and a handful of secondhand and antique stores sticking it out. More than anything else, downtown Hillyard ended up being a place people commute through on busy Market Street, usually without stopping.

But things are on the brink of changing dramatically for this old rail yard. Last year, the AmeriCorps Vista office at the Northeast Community Center began the long process of getting Hillyard recognized by the national Main Street Program.

"It's a pretty long process which involved getting businesses and city officials and many others to write letters of support, coupled with getting a bunch of buildings signed up on the National Register of Historic Places," says Spencer Grainger, an AmeriCorps neighborhood economic development specialist. "We have signed up about 15 buildings on the Register, and that created an actual historic district in Hillyard."

And that's not all. Hillyard was also approved for the Main Street Program, which is a downtown revitalization program based in Washington, D.C., and administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"We got approved for the start-up level of the Main Street Program," says Grainger. "It's a national program, but it's administered through the Washington State Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, and it focuses on downtown revitalization and business development."

Earlier this week, the Hillyard Main Street group had its first meeting with a representative from Washington, D.C.

"We are expecting that representative to guide us through a planning process for the area," says Grainger. "That's how it works. You don't get a dollar amount, you get technical assistance."

Grainger explains that the neighborhood development program is a collaborative, four-point approach to downtown revitalization.

"We have to get community members to be part of four committees: economic restructuring, design, promotion and organization," says Grainger. "The Greater Hillyard Business Association was recently restructured, and the president of that group, Ann Marie Hamilton, is the president of the Main Street Program as well."

Under the city's comprehensive plan, Hillyard was designated a neighborhood center and a pilot area, and as such is already undergoing a neighborhood planning process.

On South Perry, another pilot area, residents and businesses first visualized, then more specifically planned, how they'd like their neighborhood to turn out. Today, road crews are finishing a half-million-dollar complete redesign of the street area, including trees, new pavement, new sidewalks and street lamps.

"The South Perry project really is a streetscape project that was started before the comprehensive plan," says Melissa Wittstruck, a city planner. "The Main Street Program was one of the top priorities people in Hillyard identified at their stakeholder meetings. The city staff then worked with Hillyard residents and AmeriCorps volunteers to get Hillyard into the Main Street Program."

And getting into the program is already paying off.

"Hillyard has just received a $15,000 fa & ccedil;ade grant from the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation," says Wittstruck. "That grant was received by the city of Spokane, but it will be used in the Hillyard Historic District for fa & ccedil;ade improvement. This is one of the first public investment efforts that has come through for city's pilot areas."

So what's Hillyard going to look like five years from now?

"We are hoping to have much of the historic core repaired, a new streetscape that's much more pedestrian-friendly and more diverse businesses," says Grainger. "We are also hoping to do lots of promotional and community development events."

A series of community meetings will be scheduled for next month. To volunteer for a committee or to learn the dates of meetings, call 487-1603.

Publication date: 09/11/03

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