In the face of severe public criticism, developer Duane Hagadone’s proposal for botanical gardens and a library died on the vine Thursday.
Hagadone withdrew his offer of $2 million to help build what would have been The Hagadone Memorial Library and Botanical Gardens near the downtown shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The complex, estimated to cost $6 million dollars, was to be a memorial to his parents located at what is now McEuen Field.
The proposal immediately came under attack when the public learned the new library would mean the loss of McEuen Field for baseball, softball, picnicking and other recreation activities. It also would have meant the eventual closure of the Third Street boat ramp, one of the busiest in the state.
“I am very glad he has withdrawn that offer,” said Sue Flammia, a Coeur d’Alene attorney. “It is an extremely important property for our community. It cannot be replaced.”
But Hagadone’s decision came as a disappointment to library officials who saw the offer as a way to resurrect Coeur d’Alene’s aging library.
“I thought his offer was very generous,” said Dr. Robert Farr, chairman of the library board. “I thought it was an exciting opportunity for the library and the city of Coeur d’Alene. But, it’s apparent that not everyone was as supportive of his ideas.”
Hagadone did not say specifically why he chose to withdraw the offer. But in a news release sent out Thursday, he said, “I did not want the project to become controversial and hurt the Library Board or divide our community … it was very important to me that a memorial to my parents should be one well received by the community and not one surrounded in controversy.”
Nearly 300 people turned out for a public meeting earlier this month. All but three people who spoke were opposed to the project.
Although park officials said the recreation activities and boat ramp access would be relocated to other areas, the public was not mollified.
The park’s proximity to the lake and Tubb’s Hill made it irreplaceable, said Art Manly. “It would require the people from the whole southern part of the city to go elsewhere for that kind of recreation.”
Many saw the proposal as further diminishing the public’s ever-shrinking access to the lake. “There is not a whole lot of public access on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene,” Manly said. “Every place we have available is very precious.”
In a town where the sentiments run hot and cold regarding Hagadone, the fact that the renowned businessman was at the heart of the project merely added fuel to the fire.
Many people suspected that his seemingly benevolent offer was merely disguising his desire to control the public property for his own business interests. Hagadone’s crown jewel, The Coeur d’Alene Resort, sits adjacent to the Third Street boat ramp and McEuen Field.
“The package was obviously directed toward the beautification of the Coeur d’Alene Resort,” said Charlie Roan, a softball coach who helped spearhead opposition to the project.
Some opponents were irritated that Hagadone would force them to choose between having a beautiful new library or keeping a well-loved ball field, Roan said.
“I think (Hagadone) took an unfair beating,” said Doug Eastwood, Coeur d’Alene parks director. “He is quite supportive of a lot of things that go on in the community. I think it was a little bit of an unfair attack on him.”
Hagadone stood by his proposal, saying he still feels the Third Street ramp is poorly located and merely adds to congestion in the area during the summer.
And, “… in no way did I want to participate in a program that would reduce the recreation facility for the youth and adults in our community,” Hagadone wrote in his news release. “I do feel, however, attention should not be given just to those who participate in sports, as many of our citizens do not participate in recreational programs and they should be given consideration in projects …”
Farr said he was not surprised that Hagadone withdrew his offer. The library still needed to raise $2.7 million to build the new facility. With the growing public outcry, the money would have been difficult to come by, he said.
People on both sides of the project, said some good has come out of the controversy. The public has been awakened to the importance of city parks and the need for a new library.
Despite losing Hagadone’s offer, library officials will continue to look for funding and a possible location for a new library, Farr said. At their next meeting Wednesday, they will discuss what steps to take next.
“I hope (Hagadone) will still donate money to the library, as all of us are going to have to do if we’re going to expand and improve our library,” Flammia said. “The city could use this as a very constructive effort to developing a sense of community.”
Hagadone, in his statement Thursday, said his company was a major contributor when the existing library was built.
“I assure you that if your future plans call for a new or renovated facility, you can count on us for similar major support,” he wrote to library officials.
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