Puyallup Herald

Puyallup Farmers Market organizers threatened by proposal to put popular event out for bid

Puyallup group wants to make their town a destination

Kerry Yanasak, interim director of the Puyallup Main Street Association, hopes to help make his town a destination.
Up Next
Kerry Yanasak, interim director of the Puyallup Main Street Association, hopes to help make his town a destination.

The future of the nonprofit that puts on Puyallup’s popular farmers market and other events might be in jeopardy.

A trio of City Council members has introduced a proposal that encourages interested parties to apply to manage city-sponsored events like the Puyallup Farmers Market, which brings thousands of visitors to the city each summer, as well as the Meeker Days Festival and the Santa Parade.

The plan to begin seeking requests for proposals, also known as RFPs, was submitted by Councilwoman Cynthia Jacobsen and co-sponsored by City Council members Jim Kastama and Tom Swanson.

The three events historically have been organized by the Puyallup Main Street Association (PMSA), a nonprofit dedicated to the revitalization of the city’s downtown core. PMSA will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2019.

The proposal to shop the events around drew concern from PMSA staff and board members, who say the association would suffer if another organization was selected to organize the events.

“Obviously, it’s going to gut the Main Street Association,” PMSA acting director Shelli Williams said in an interview with The Puyallup Herald.

The plan’s sponsors said they are trying to do what’s best for city taxpayers.

“Puyallup taxpayers deserve that we take a look at the entities who manage these events with an eye to providing the best value for Puyallup,” according to the proposal. “We should request proposals from all interested parties and choose the event management which will provide the best value for Puyallup in terms of revenue/cost savings and intangible benefits.”

Jacobsen said she brought the proposal as part of a process to allocate city resources more fairly.

“I don’t have anything against Main Street, and I don’t want to start a nonprofit war,” Jacobsen said at the Nov. 7 meeting.

“I think that the RFP process will give everyone an opportunity to see what options we have in this community,” added Kastama.

Farmers Market vendors makes close to $2 million in sales. A small percentage goes to pay the nonprofit’s four staff members, and the rest funnels into facade improvements, street banners, decorations, advertising and promotional campaigns.

The association would be able to fund fewer downtown revitalization projects and forced to lay off three of its four employees if the events are awarded to someone else, Williams said.

“We want everybody to understand that the profits that we make off these events, we’re literally turning right around to the community,” she said.

PMSA staff and board members voiced their concerns at the Nov. 7 City Council meeting.

“Puyallup Main Street is uniquely qualified to manage the events we have operated for almost 30 years,” Williams said during public comment. “There is no organization whose sole focus is revitalization of our historic downtown core than the Puyallup Main Street Association.”

The proposal to open up the events to bidding was not unanimously supported by the City Council.

“I think it’s in our best interest to have people who have been doing this for 30 years to continue to do it,” Councilwoman Robin Farris said at the meeting.

“I have concern putting service clubs at odds … I’m not going to support this today,” added Councilwoman Julie Door.

Supporters of the proposal maintain that it’s healthy competition, and PMSA isn’t barred from it.

Williams said PMSA already completed lengthy planning for 2019 events and was worried whether they would be awarded funds from the city’s Lodging Tax Allocation Committee.

The city’s 2019 recommended budget shows PMSA asking for $115,000 in LTAC funds, about $20,000 more than they were awarded last year.

A majority of council members say they’ll approve 2019 LTAC funding, allowing PMSA to carry on with the events with no changes in 2019. Jacobsen said she cannot support approving LTAC funding because the applications aren’t transparent enough.

“It’s a problem for those applications to be coming in, and there’s no clear picture of what the money is going for,” she said.

Starting in 2020, PMSA could see a more thorough application process and also be competing against other nonprofits to host the events if the council passes the proposal.

For now, council has decided to table to issue until the next regular meeting.

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison

Allison Needles covers news in Puyallup, Sumner and Bonney Lake for The Puyallup Herald and education news for The News Tribune in Tacoma. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.