Sultan is finally ready. Ready to be pro-growth, ready to improve its appeal from U.S. 2, and ready to grow its tourism and business sectors into the economic boons the community is confident they can become.
The transformation began Monday, Jan. 9, at Sultan’s City Hall, where Mayor Carolyn Eslick led the first of what she promises will be many meetings that focus on building a strong, sustainable economy that invites in more visitors.
City Administrator Ken Walker said the process is necessary for the community’s quality of life. At this point, overcoming inertia is the biggest blockade he foresees.
“We need to get up out of our chairs, and follow through,” he said.
For the past nine years, city improvement efforts have been about boosting public safety and weathering the economic downturn.
A large homeless population based near the Skykomish River, which largely refused services offered by the city, created a persistent drug problem that greatly affected the community’s youth, Copple said. During that period, she and other community members reportedly saw dealers execute handoffs in very public places.
Then there was the Great Recession, Copple said. All considered, the city is actually in good shape. Main Street has only a few empty storefronts right now, she said.
Jody Kerr, who owns Scottish Thistle Farms in Monroe, recently helped fill one of those vacant spaces, as did another well known local business. At Monday’s meeting, Kerr was one of many who cited concerns with the city’s amount, or lack of, signage.
Before moving his family to the area, Kerr said he rarely even considered stopping in Sultan. The sign for Galaxy Chocolates, his new business partner, is what finally drew him in, and the experience eventually led to him investing directly in Sultan. The parks and recreation opportunities, culture and shopping is all there; it’s just difficult to know the potential for attracting tourists or visitors just driving through, he said.
Monday’s group identified Main Street as one of the city’s biggest potential assets, and where much improvement should be made.
Copple said that requires business owners to comply with and help maintain a clear vision. The skeleton of that vision may already be found in a recent study, she said; that being the Snohomish County 2016 Rural Tourism Workshop Final Report, completed by consulting and facilitation firm Pandion.
Participants in the workshop said they wanted to see the area maintain its “small town character,” according to the report.
Not everyone agrees with the approach.
Loggers Tavern owner Leo Moreno said preserving the small-town culture will actually impede progress, and is an “old-school way of thinking.” As Seattle grows, and Monroe expands as a bedroom community, he said, those settling in Sultan will expect and push for a more modern experience.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It’s not even a choice.”
Copple told Monday’s group making any headway hinges on a good attitude, and progress will be incremental.
Despite what will likely be another long road, Eslick said she heard no reasons to feel discouraged Monday. Others echoed her opinion.
Moreno said he has worked and placed his faith and livelihood in Sultan for the last 10 years.
“I have been successful in a place that everyone tells me is dying,” Moreno said. “I don’t believe that.”
Photo by Kelly Sullivan: The refurbished ‘Historical Scenes of the Sultan Fire Department’ mural, first painted by artist David Hose in 2009, decorates the Sultan Post Office.