Fearing downtown redevelopment will mean drastic changes in McEuen Park, a citizens group is forming to keep the popular downtown greenspace intact.
The McEuen Preservation Alliance’s worries are fueled by a recent consultant’s report that urges Coeur d’Alene to “have the political will and courage” to develop a master plan for the park.
The guidelines, the HyettPalma study says, include moving tennis courts and ball fields, closing the Third Street boat launch and “reclaiming and redesigning the park” to include everything from a pavilion with restaurants to a library-performing arts building.
Citizens say this sounds too much like a plan killed in February that would have replaced the park with a library and botanical gardens. And the McEuen Preservation Alliance promises to appear in force at a Dec. 16 Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting when the council will vote on accepting the HyettPalma plan.
“I think it’s an arrogant assumption that the park needs to be reclaimed,” said Anne Solomon, a local attorney. “I don’t like an outsider coming in and saying this is an economic asset, develop it.”
Downtown redevelopment is fine, but “I’m saying I love my park the way it is, keep your hands off.”
Members of the Lake City Coalition, formed to help guide downtown revitalization, say the HyettPalma report is a list of suggestions, not mandates.
“No one is saying there has to be change,” said Nancy Sue Wallace, city councilwoman and vice chairwoman of the coalition. “We’d just like the opportunity to research different ideas.”
She said opponents are “closing the door before it’s open.”
HyettPalma was hired by the City Council last summer to study solutions for the lagging downtown retail district.
The Virginia-based consultant was paid $45,000, a sore spot among local residents who believe the City Council could have done the same study by holding public hearings.
But the real sticking point is about keeping McEuen Park in tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic area and green space.
In February, Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone offered to give the city $2 million if it would build a botanical garden and library in place of the field.
The issue was so volatile that more than 300 people turned out at a public hearing before the Parks and Recreation Commission.
“They were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping things the way they are,” said Jeanne Bemis, who serves on the commission.
She is amazed that just months after the last firestorm over McEuen, a consultant’s report is suggesting McEuen Park be converted to “fountains, flowers and an amphitheater.”
A recent study by the Kootenai County Waterways Advisory Board found broad support for keeping open the Third Street launch, the busiest launch in the state, she said.
“It seems to me as if the author of the report didn’t get the message about the strength of public opinion or he ignored it,” Bemis said.
If people pushing downtown redevelopment continue to ignore the public’s wishes and drastically change McEuen Park, efforts to get local residents to shop downtown will backfire, she said.
“It would permanently sever the relationship between downtown merchants and people who have strong feelings about that,” Bemis said. “The downtown merchants who are not on this bandwagon should be very concerned.”
Oscar Peterson, a retired mill worker and longtime Coeur d’Alene resident, also believes McEuen is the wrong place to fix downtown retail sales. High prices are the problem, he said.
And businesses coming to the area aren’t helping boost the buying base. “There are too many jobs now with starvation wages and no benefits,” Peterson said.
But Solomon of the McEuen Alliance says the McEuen question is not just about money.
Her criticism is that the consultant’s plan for McEuen shows “they are not looking at (McEuen) from a quality of life standpoint. They are looking at it as an economic gold mine.”
She predicts a huge turnout at the Dec. 16 City Council meeting, with many people asking the council to drop language from the HyettPalma plan that addresses McEuen.
Meanwhile, Wallace is distressed by the quick rejection of the HyettPalma study.
The study calls for hiring a consultant to develop a master plan for everything from the city’s Third Street parking lot on the west of McEuen Park to City Hall on the east side. Most of the proposed additions, from an amphitheater to a farmer’s market, could be located on the parking lot if the parking lot were moved underground, she said.
“Until we do a feasibility study, we will never know.”
As to the boat launch, it won’t be closed until there is an alternative, Wallace said.
Sandi Bloem, also co-chair of the Lake City Coalition, says she understands the fears about the future of McEuen. But the December council meeting doesn’t spell the beginning of the end, Bloem cautioned.
At that meeting, the City Council will be asked to adopt a tax increment financing plan that redirects tax revenue from future increases in downtown property values to rebuilding downtown. The law requires that the city have a plan, in this case the HyettPalma plan, that includes all of the possibilities for the area, she said.
“There is no plan beyond that,” Bloem said. “There is no hidden agenda.”
Everybody will be invited to help draft the master plan for McEuen.
Change sometimes is disturbing, but it can lead to improvements in what exists without radically altering McEuen facilities, Bloem said.
“It may mean ball fields that are twice as good.”
If the City Council adopts the HyettPalma plan, nothing is a done deal, added Mayor Al Hassell.
Every change affecting the area, from the Third Street boat launch to the ball fields, has to have City Council approval.
At this point, the city has a “wish list of ideas,” he said. “Most of them will be thrown out as unfeasible, unaffordable or impossible.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE MASTER PLAN According to the HyettPalma report, the park should include: Phasing out use of the Third Street boat launch, as an alternative becomes available. Barring boat trailers from the city parking lot. Replacing the tennis courts and ball fields with state-of-the art facilities elsewhere in the community. Reclaiming and redesigning the use of the park to include a multipurpose pavilion with restaurants, amphitheater, open plaza for community gatherings, farmers market and a library/performing arts building.