If the city moves ahead with a plan to make over McEuen Field, a rift will form in the community that won’t be easy to mend, a grass-roots group warned Thursday.
“There will be a sense of loss and anger that will take years to recover,” said Anne Solomon of the McEuen Preservation Alliance.
She faced off with Sandi Bloem of the Lake City Coalition in a debate sponsored by the Kootenai Environmental Alliance.
At issue is a downtown revitalization project that involves tax increment financing and a consultant’s study that recommends “reclaiming” McEuen Field.
“I find that very insulting,” said Solomon, who said her children play softball on McEuen’s fields. “The way this process is now, it looks like land-grabbing.”
The city has approved the study by consultant HyattPalma and has approved an urban renewal district downtown. On Dec. 16, the City Council is scheduled to approve a tax increment financing plan that’s designed to pay for improvements downtown.
If approved, the tax revenue generated from growth within the district would go to the urban renewal commission to spend on downtown projects.
Bloem insisted that the $45,000 HyattPalma study identified the lake as downtown’s most important asset.
“If it’s our strength, we have to connect it to downtown,” she said.
She vowed nothing at McEuen Field would change without extensive public involvement.
While Bloem and other members of the Lake City Coalition insist that the guidelines in the HyattPalma report aren’t set in stone, Solomon’s group is bothered by the fact that dollar figures are attached to projects at McEuen Field.
The projects are the same ones mentioned in the consultant’s report: an ice-skating rink, library, performing arts center, amphitheater and other facilities.
Of the $13.9 million budgeted for the urban renewal district, $9.3 million is designated for McEuen Field.
One reason specific projects are listed in the tax increment financing plan is that, by law, anything that isn’t included in the plan cannot be funded through that method of financing.
“To me, a conspicuous lack is a community center,” commented Barb Chamberlain, a former state representative. “If we’re limited to these expenditures, then the list is not complete.”
The McEuen Preservation Alliance wants the study put to a vote, but Bloem said that’s up to the City Council.
City Council members Sue Servick and Nancy Sue Wallace are on the Lake City Coalition, which is the group pushing downtown revitalization.
“If a group is afraid of a public vote, that causes me great concern,” Solomon said.
At the very least, she said, the council should vote to remove references to McEuen Field from the recommendations in the tax increment financing plan.
“Why can’t downtown do its revitalization but leave out McEuen Field?” she asked.
Another concern raised by Solomon was the rapid pace of council decisions on the plan and the tax increment financing.
“What’s the rush,” she asked.
If the city doesn’t move now to approve a tax increment financing plan, it will potentially lose $25,000 next year and another $25,000 for every year the plan is in effect, Bloem answered.
“We are not asking at this point to eliminate anything,” she said. “I would like to see the community come together and create a plan for what the community would like to see.”
Despite Bloem’s assurances, Solomon did not waver in her opposition to the plan.
“It’s not a clean slate,” Solomon said. “To make it a clean slate, let the people vote,” she said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT On Dec. 16, the City Council is scheduled to approve a tax increment financing plan that’s designed to pay for improvements downtown.