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La Center plans downtown expansion that could include annexing 14-acres, waterfront recreation

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 19, 2023, 6:02am

LA CENTER — Mayor Thomas Strobehn and Community Development Director Bryan Kast unveiled a plan called Downtown 2.0 to expand La Center’s footprint during the city council’s annual retreat Saturday.

“This will be no easy task,” Strobehn told the council. “It’s time to think further out than 10, 20 or 30 years. We must plan and build La Center’s future, and I believe that starts with our own downtown expansion.”

Strobehn invited 20th District legislators state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, as well as Republican Sen. Ann Rivers from the 18th District, who lives just outside La Center city limits, to Saturday’s event. The meeting began at the La Center Community Center before moving to City Hall. Emma Montague from U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s office and Tanisha Harris from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office also attended.

The proposal involves expanding the downtown area west to the East Fork of the Lewis River, building on the subarea plan previously approved by the city council. Under the plan, the city would annex roughly 14 acres and begin initial permitting work to ready the area for development. Plans could also include expanded recreational opportunities in the Timmen’s Landing area.

“We have an important tie to the water with how La Center was founded,” Kast said. “We want to enhance that connection. We have a couple of nonmotorized boat launches already. We want to add some additional nonmotorized — kayak, paddleboards — facilities down at the waterfront.”

Strobehn said those kind of facilities will draw visitors.

“If we start bringing out the trails and expanding them even further, adding those docks and some playgrounds or some parks down by the water and stuff like that, we’re going to get people in from even Amboy at that point,” he said.

Strobehn said the council would need to approve changes to the subarea plan sometime in 2024. Subarea plans allow jurisdictions to focus on specific areas of the city and are included in their state-mandated comprehensive growth management plans.

“This is conceptual. Things are going to change, ideas are going to come in and people are going to want different things,” Strobehn said.

Kast has already begun meeting with the downtown businesses to get their input on the plan, Strobehn said. He also said the city would be scheduling public forums to solicit input and feedback from La Center residents on the proposal.

“By working closely with the residents and business owners, we will achieve our goal of a vibrant community that is connected and inspiring for decades,” Strobehn said.

With the costs of building new infrastructure continuing to rise, Strobehn said the city will not be able to do the work on its own and will need help from state and federal government partners.

Strobehn said he took his inspiration from piazzas, or plazas, which are the open squares in Italian towns that often feature cafes, restaurants, market stalls and apartments that serve as a gathering point for the community.

“I think it adds to the culture for La Center,” Strobehn said.

In an interview Monday, Strobehn said he understands not everyone is going to support the downtown expansion. However, he said growth is coming to the city — and the county — whether people like it or not. If the city doesn’t plan for that growth now, it will lose out, he said.

“Most of the residents like the lifestyle they have, what they’ve become accustomed to, the services that are offered. And they would like to see more,” Strobehn said.

Full details of the expansion plan will be posted to the city’s website at https://ci.lacenter.wa.us later in the week.