Destination Done Right

Leavenworth Washington must have the most insanely robust design guidelines anywhere!

At some point the planners in this town of only 2000 decided that their community should be themed in a Bavarian style. It is truly an example of destination development done well. They chose a theme and committed to it completely. Every building, public amenity and all signs – even those of major, powerful chains like McD – have a Bavarian look and feel.

Place Management Success

Then the beautification layer is added. In the summertime it is a riot of colourful and overflowing flower baskets and planters. In the winter it is lit up to the Nth degree. Buildings outlined and dripping with lighted icicles, trees wrapped to the ends lo every branch or hugged with netted lights. It is magical to stroll about, and it doesn’t end there – they engage the people. Events and activities abound, the streets are alive with pedestrians throughout the year. Wine and walk events happen frequently, they have a great public gathering place in the core of the main street where they host events such as artisan markets and live music. Horse drawn carriage rides are centered here as well as excellent public washrooms.

Interestingly, even though they have the critical mass of pedestrians to do so, they do not have any closed streets. This ensures a vibrant feel on the sidewalks; retail shops are busy and happy, and parking – which is in high demand – is preserved.

Retail Diversity

The business mix is very diverse with wine shops, clothing, gift ware, specialty, art, pet shops and more as well as an excellent selection of restaurants. Outside dining is king, there is one restaurant that doesn’t even have a building of its own. They simply put a roof between two buildings with a small shed for a kitchen. And yes, it is open year-round! They have a variety of heating apparatus including tables with lava rocks and flames down the center. The local fire department must be very accommodating!

A Story from the Street

Over several visits to Leavenworth, in different seasons, I noticed a peculiar

lack of street issues. No sign of homeless people or panhandlers. My curiosity over this grew with each visit so on my most recent shopping trip with my daughter I asked a young lady working in a retail shop why there were no panhandlers. She replied, “What is a panhandler?” Well my daughter and I broke out laughing – judging by her puzzled look I’m sure she thought we were a little nuts – but we have both worked in downtowns with street issues typical of most urban centers and were thoroughly amazed that this was just not on the retail radar here. When we elaborated with “people begging for money” she said those were mostly in Seattle (2-1/2 hours away) where it is warmer and there are services for them.

In a Nut Shell

The results from the vision, planning, design guidelines, commitment, placemaking and customer engagement are wide ranging. One example is when they host their town light-up events for the Christmas season – where incredibly they turn on all the tree and building lights at once – it causes traffic jams for miles on the interstate highway leading to town! Tourists flock to Leavenworth year-round, not just for the recreational opportunities in the area – which are wonderful although not unique to them – but to experience the atmospheric town itself, which is unique. Another result is the effects on real estate: prices are higher here and turn over more quickly than nearby Cashmere or Wenatchee.

All of this did not happen overnight. It required considerable effort and persistence over many years, but the outcomes demonstrate the value of purposeful community development. Leavenworth is an inspiration to all urban place management professionals who dedicate ourselves to developing our destinations.