Downtown Coeur d’Alene has so much going for it - an idyllic setting, a location next to a prominent resort and a fairly recent upgrade of streets, curbs and sidewalks.
But, for some reason, those amenities aren’t pulling people into the shops and restaurants along Sherman Avenue and its side streets. Businesses are failing or moving elsewhere. A record number of vacant storefronts greets visitors, indicating the decline is near critical mass. Fortunately, downtown Coeur d’Alene has a strong will to survive and a good relationship with City Hall.
This week, a consultant hired by the City Council conducted a public meeting and dozens of private interviews, trying to discover the best way to preserve the business core. The Hyett-Palma team will unveil its findings and a plan of action Nov. 3.
Everyone in Coeur d’Alene has a stake in the central business district’s survival. Each should keep an open mind when Hyett-Palma’s recommendations are released. Merchants and building owners must be willing to change the way they’ve done business for decades. Downtown Coeur d’Alene has an economic niche. But it may no longer be as a primary retail center. Maybe property owners and downtown boosters should begin seeking people to invest in office buildings and condominiums, to take advantage of the awesome setting.
On the other hand, Coeur d’Alene residents should consider changes to public areas that could jump-start downtown activity. McEuen Field, for example, is big enough for a library-theater complex or an ice rink - attractions that wouldn’t interfere with the ball fields and recreational facilities. If parking can be relocated, there’s probably a better use for the Third Street lot, too.
Downtown interests, of course, must be careful here. The community hasn’t forgotten their attempts to “save the downtown” by backing unpopular plans to bring hydroplane races back and to replace McEuen Field with a botanical garden.
The bottom line? The community needs a thriving downtown, which pays 9 percent of the city’s taxes and provides important jobs, goods and services. And the downtown can’t survive without local shoppers. Contrary to popular belief, seven out of 10 downtown shoppers are Kootenai County or Spokane residents - not tourists.
Downtown Coeur d’Alene can thrive again. The potential is there. Now, all that’s needed is citywide cooperation - and vision.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board