Changed attitudes of Pullman residents spur economic growth

PULLMAN, WA - Decades ago, Pullman was a relatively quiet college town outside of the College Hill area, and today it's an expanding city with no end in sight.

Attitudes toward economic growth in Pullman have changed over the last few decades. Developers tried to build the Palouse Mall in Pullman in the late seventies, but the residents wouldn't have it.

"They kind of looked at Pullman as sort of a sleepy town," said Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson. "Sort of like okay, this will be the place where we can have a sleepy suburbs and we can go elsewhere to do shopping."

"I think some of the planning and thoughts from city council and even mayors, or the chamber, were somewhat resistant to having any kind of development coming in as far as a shopping mall," said Pullman Council Member Fritz Hughes.

Pullman said "No" to nationwide chains, and as a result the Palouse Mall ended up in Moscow.

"That model doesn't work in today's society and it does not work with today's funding," said Johnson. "At that time, they got a tremendous amount of money from the state just to keep Pullman alive. We don't have that today."

As the university and the population grew, it became clear that Pullman needed to expand economically to support the needs of the community.

"Quite frankly, folks in Pullman were hard pressed to find a place to buy a pair of socks in town in the early eighties," said Pullman Planning Director Pete Dickinson. "Moscow had captured the bulk of the retail market and we were playing catch up."

But that's no longer the case. Today, Pullman's population is at 31,000 people, which is slightly larger than Moscow's. The growth in population created a demand for more shops and housing.

"There was a lot of market available here in Pullman," said Corporate Pointe President and CEO Duane Brelsford. "There was a lot of niches let's say."

Duane Brelsford is the President and CEO of Corporate Pointe Developers, and by the end of this year, his company will have built almost 1,900 apartments over the decade.

"You think, well how could this town handle 1,900 units," said Brelsford. "Well it still needs more. The community was almost at a 100% full this year."

Corporate Pointe is also responsible for some of the city's most popular restaurants, and Pullman's only cinema. A group of residents put up a fight when Walmart decided to build in Pullman in 2004, but other than that, the community has generally welcomed the new growth.

"So long as it's steady growth, and not just spiraling out of control," said Dickinson.

And as the main population drivers like Washington State University and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories continue to grow, so too will the city.

"And so our biggest thing is to push for more retail space over here and just get more retailers in," said Johnson.

A new hotel, apartment complex, and bank are a few new things that we'll see in Pullman in the near future.