At least a few baseball and boating advocates want the Coeur d’Alene City Council to adopt a controversial urban renewal plan that considers changes to McEuen Field and the Third Street boat launching area.
“As one of the main users of McEuen Field, we want to go on record in support of the urban renewal plan,” said Ron Keefer at a spirited public hearing Tuesday evening. “The location of the (baseball) field is not critical to us.”
His comments, like those of most who testified, warbled in a muffled echo out of a poor sound system before a crowd of more than 300 people in the Coeur d’Alene High School auditorium.
The City Council was expected to approve the renewal plan Tuesday night after taking several hours of public testimony. At issue is whether to include McEuen Field and the Third Street boat launch site in the renewal plan.
Testimony Tuesday also included endorsement of the plan by the Kootenai County Parks and Waterways Advisory Board, although it strongly emphasized that the Third Street boat ramp and parking lot should not be removed.
Supporters of changing the face of downtown were well-organized, nearly matching opponents one for one. At least one senior executive from Hagadone Hospitality testified in favor of the renewal plan, including doing something different with McEuen Field.
Even Steve Judy, who takes over as mayor of Coeur d’Alene next month, stepped up to the microphone to endorse the project.
But opposition was fierce and biting.
Michael Walker of Post Falls reminded the City Council that an overwhelming majority of the people who testified on the future of McEuen Field in February wanted the area left alone.
“Will you be remembered as the Grinches that stole McEuen at Christmas?” Walker asked.
Steve Ruppel criticized the Virginia-based consultant who developed the heart of the renewal plan for not recognizing the non-economic benefits of parks. That was echoed by Charlie Roan of the McEuen Preservation Alliance.
“Parkland is not a play field for economic recovery,” Roan said.
Other speakers warned that state and federal grants, under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, would make it nearly impossible to convert McEuen Field into something besides outdoor recreation facilities.
But city officials emphasized that the renewal project, and its call for a master plan that potentially redefines the future of McEuen, includes everything from City Hall on the east to the Third Street parking lot on the west.
None of the green space is up for development, City Finance Director John Austin said. “Adoption of this plan tonight will not dictate what happens at McEuen Field, if anything happens at all,” he said.
Any changes could only be accomplished with the consent of the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council. Both would rely on broad public input, he said.
The Virginia consultant, HyettPalma, said the park should “always be maintained as a public park for public use,” Austin said.
But members of the McEuen Preservation Alliance have long noted that the same report encourages city leaders to have the “political will … to reclaim” McEuen Field for everything from an ice rink to a performing arts theater.
The City Council was under great pressure to approve the renewal blueprint Tuesday. One critical element of the plan is allowing the city to collect taxes on any increase in property values that result from work done in the renewal area.
If the council did not act Tuesday night, the urban renewal agency would not be able to collect that revenue for another year. That money is supposed to go to streets, sewers and other infrastructure.
The urban renewal district includes downtown, the area along Northwest Boulevard and Midtown in the Third and Fourth Street areas.
If the plan is approved, the city will hire a consultant to create a master plan for redeveloping the downtown business district. That master plan will suggest changes to McEuen Field.