The consultant hired to draft an economic revitalization strategy for Coeur d’Alene believes the key ingredient in brewing good beer could be just as important to the future of downtown:
It’s the water.
“Bring downtown to the water,” Doyle Hyett, a consultant with the Alexandria, Va., firm of Hyett-Palma told a crowd of nearly 300 Monday night. “Water is magic in downtown revitalization.”
Hyett was in Coeur d’Alene to deliver the results of a $45,000 taxpayer-funded study. The recommendations are meant to be implemented in one-year stages as part of a five- to seven-year master plan.
Beyond recognition of Lake Coeur d’Alene’s obvious role in the local economy, Hyett painted a picture of the commercial core that could be described as “Thornton Wilder meets Duane Hagadone on a hike around Tubbs Hill.”
It was “Our Town” ringed by high-rises and resort hotels. And if things go as planned, there would be plenty of scenery left to go around.
“We’re attempting to re-establish downtown as a neighborhood, much as it was in the past,” Hyett said.
Some of the homes in that neighborhood, however, would be located on the top floors of lofty office buildings.
Hyett came armed with the only copy of the Downtown Coeur d’Alene Economic Enhancement Strategy - a 2-inch-thick spiral-bound document that goes to press today. The study breaks the district into four distinct areas.
Two of them reach out to embrace the future needs of midtown merchants and development along Northwest Boulevard.
Hyett referred to Sherman Avenue and adjoining streets near The Coeur d’Alene Resort as “the heart” of the revitalization plan. His firm’s suggestions for that district include a concentration of specialty retail shops, restaurants and entertainment plus a small percentage of street-level office space with housing on the upper floors.
The eastern edge of downtown - along Front Avenue and north for a few blocks - was designated as a mixed-use area in the study, with plans for developing professional offices and corporate headquarters.
From Fourth Street running west to Northwest Boulevard, Hyett envisioned an “in-town neighborhood,” where residents could live within walking or bike-riding distance of shopping and the workplace.
“There’s a movement going on in this country toward the way things used to be,” Hyett said. “That area lends itself very well to that sort of neo-traditional use.”
North Fourth Street between Coeur d’Alene and Garden, the area commonly known as midtown, would continue to focus on convenience, retail and service use.
The jewel in downtown’s crown, Hyett said, is the potential offered by the property around Tubbs Hill and McEuen Field.
“It’s a critical piece of real estate … an area that always needs to be protected,” the consultant said, drawing applause from the group at Fernan Elementary School.
“It cannot be screwed up; it cannot be taken advantage of. Put that piece of land up on a pedestal,” he said.
Hyett recommended the addition of an amphitheater, open plaza, library and ice rink to the property, joined by city-owned restaurants and public art. He also encouraged the community to rethink the baseball diamonds at McEuen Field.
“That’s not to say it can’t be a ball field, but if it is, it ought to be the best ball field in the world,” Hyett said.
Future city ordinances should pay strict attention to building view corridors downtown to prohibit lake vistas being blocked by high- and mid-rise development. At the same time, Coeur d’Alene should prevent historic structures from being torn down to make room for parking lots.
The study blames “management” for the city’s parking problems, saying the number of spaces is ample for all but peak tourism months.
Hyett advised the city to crack down on business owners and employees who take up downtown parking spaces and devise a system for shuttling customers into the downtown core from public parking lots.
Management of the on- and off-street parking, he said, should be turned over to the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association, with fees going to fund a full-time director for the group.
Robert Singletary, interim executive director for the association, said he heard nothing new during the presentation.
“It was pretty much what we expected,” he said. “Downtown’s going to have to adjust to changes and become a destination - we’ve known this.”
Downtown businessman Dave Walker, who owns Ace Travel, came to the meeting eager to hear about plans for lakefront property.
“I was wondering what would be said about the McEuen area,” he said. “He gave us a lot of different options there and nothing that’s going to cut anybody off.”
Regardless of who gets elected mayor in today’s election, it appears likely the city will support revitalization plans.
“This (study) follows the philosophy we had all along,” said Mayor Al Hassell, “where the city acts as a facilitator to maintain a balance in the community. The difference here is that now we have a map.”
Mayoral challenger Steve Judy said he agrees with “pieces” of the revitalization plan.
“We need to take the template and determine what’s best for Coeur d’Alene,” Judy said. “This is the start; the beginning of the conversation.”
Hyett said some form of tax-increment financing should be the next step toward implementing the plan. Long-term financial support, he added, would have to come from the entire community.
“Contributions should be made by a wider district than just downtown,” the consultant said. “As downtown goes, so goes the rest of your town.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo