August 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Downtown Coeur D’Alene Faces Challenge

Nils Rosdahl The Spokesman-Revi

Downtown Coeur d’Alene is in its own purgatory.

It’s in that in-between stage of being saved or potentially going down the tubes.

Many individual businesses aren’t on that threshold. They are either making it or not.

However, if the area in general goes downhill, even currently thriving businesses may suffer. But if the area finds a strategy for group survival, even marginal businesses might be able to tag along.

One key is that every business participates and pays its individual “membership” so the group can survive.

However, some businesses say they simply can’t afford to participate, and some - such as private offices and residential units - may claim they shouldn’t have to pay, because they won’t benefit as much as retail establishments.

The bottom line is that Coeur d’Alene’s downtown now has an uncomfortably high number of vacancies. These lessen the attractiveness of the area to customers and other potential businesses. Some businesses simply aren’t making enough money, which may mean more empty spaces.

The problem is not new. Formal solutions have been sought and offered at least twice before. Some suggestions were pretty good. Some were heeded; some were not.

Maybe we need to look again at some of those suggestions, modify them where needed, and accomplish them.

The University of Idaho’s Department of Art and Architecture made three suggestions when contracted by the city in 1979: 1) Redirect traffic flow with one-way streets; 2) Use extensive pedestrian-friendly landscaping; and, 3) Construct a three-story parking garage on Lakeside Avenue.

The first suggestion had some effect, as Lakeside and Front avenues were made more accessible by smoothing corners and Sherman was narrowed to two lanes with turn lanes at the intersections.

The second suggestion was partly adopted as sidewalks were widened and decorated with bricks, streetlights, benches and trees.

Although gravely needed, the third suggestion, the parking garage, was not built.

In fact, the downtown’s only large parking lot is on land adjoining the lake and McEuen Field. What a waste! This property could be the needed link to provide the pedestrian flow from downtown to the recreational amenities. Instead, we have the parking in between. Parking facilities should be on the edges of the downtown perimeter.

If people want to come downtown, they’ll find a place to park. So the downtown must attract them. The current parking lot is the centerpiece, and it’s not attractive.

In the early 1980s an expensive study suggested turning the prime area of Sherman Avenue into a covered mall. Fortunately, the city didn’t agree. Coeur d’Alene is an outdoor-oriented city; a covered mall would have been the kiss of death.

However, making Sherman Avenue an open plaza might be a terrific idea. If done right, it would be a tremendous, unique attraction. It would need landscaping to provide seating and shade, brick and tile rather than asphalt, clean, safe restrooms, attractive lighting to encourage winter and night use, maybe some sculpture and fountains.

The Coeur d’Alene area has tremendous artists, some of whose work can be seen at North Idaho College. If Joe Jonas’ sculpture in the NIC library was in downtown Coeur d’Alene, it would be photographed almost as much as the lake and the hotel. These things are attractions.

If the parking lot was moved, the plaza could extend from Sherman Avenue (and its businesses) to the lake. A plaza also could include such attractions as outdoor vendors, a food court, entertainment and organized activities. We now get a suggestion of this with the downtown celebration in early August.

With improvements, downtown would become more of a destination. It could thrive because it wouldn’t be so dependent on tourists. Local residents would come because it would be fun and pleasant. More offices and apartments and condos would locate downtown for the same reason.

Accomplishing this will take money, organization, cooperation, plus some time (perhaps years) and effort.

Here are two suggestions which could help for the near future: 1) create a major parking area on the northeast side of Memorial Field to be utilized by visitors to downtown and NIC; and, 2) charge less rent so tenants can survive, and the area can prosper.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Nils Rosdahl The Spokesman-Review

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