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Stand Firm Your Hallowed Ground

The long-awaited Hyett-Palma report on downtown Coeur d’Alene held few surprises. To sum it up in one sentence, it read: “Bring downtown to the water.”

That, of course, is easy for a consultant from Virginia to say.

Downtown business leaders have tried several times over the past dozen years to get closer to the water and each time they’ve been burned by public reaction. Coeur d’Alene residents jealously guard three pieces of prime real estate that stand between downtown and Lake Coeur d’Alene: McEuen Field, Third Street boat launch and Third Street dock.

Last winter, businessman Duane Hagadone encountered a firestorm of protest when he proposed transforming McEuen Field into a botanical garden and library site in memory of his parents. Coeur d’Alene residents who grew up playing ball on the McEuen diamonds wouldn’t listen to his proposal.

Downtown interests have to be very careful what they do about Hyett’s recommendations. An aggressive attempt to convert McEuen Field into public buildings with a grassy spot in the middle, as he suggested, is doomed to failure. And the ripple effect could sink the crucial need to jump start Coeur d’Alene’s central business core.

Unfortunately, whatever downtown Coeur d’Alene proposes regarding the Coeur d’Alene waterfront will be viewed with suspicion.

It’s no secret that downtown business interests covet the public greenbelt east of The Coeur d’Alene resort. They view the ball diamonds, tennis courts, playgrounds and boat docks as a waste of invaluable land. Hyett does, too. In fact, he recommended that the city replace McEuen’s ball fields, tennis courts and playgrounds with an amphitheater, open plaza, library, ice rink, city-owned restaurants and public art.

This may be another case where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For struggling families trying to make ends meet on minimum-wage jobs, the play field provides visual respite from forces they can’t control: traffic congestion, constant construction and summertime crowds.

Unquestionably, the public waterfront can be put to better use.

With the new Ramsey Park softball complex and hardball diamonds at the high schools, Coeur d’Alene doesn’t need three lakeside ball fields. Possibly, the site could be used to host a summer concert series similar to the Festival at Sandpoint. Or a new library could be tucked into one corner, if it can be built without blocking the view.

But, if the merchants really want to reach the lake, they should move the Third Street parking lot. Who would mind? It’s hard to get attached to asphalt.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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