This town needs a new image.
Once dependent on mining and timber, city officials in the bedroom community are waking up and smelling other sources of industry and commerce.
Officials have their eyes on Main Street to start the money flowing.
What the town needs, leaders agree, is a plan to jolt downtown into consciousness.
That’s where five Washington State University seniors come in.
The team of students - four in interior design and one in landscape architecture - presented plans to turn Rathdrum’s sleepy Main Street area into the hub of a lively, friendly, small town complete with 1920s-era building fronts.
“It’s really going to give us a multitude of things that the city really needs,” Mayor Tawnda Bromley said. “I’ve lived here over 30 years, and I’ve wanted to see downtown revitalized.”
In drawings and an oral presentation at Rathdrum’s City Hall Wednesday night, the students outlined plans for improving streets, increasing the amount of parking in downtown, adding an “anchor” business and creating a lush walkway full of greenery through town.
“Essentially, we want to preserve the wonderful character of your city,” LaRayne Arnold, a senior interior design student, told the crowd of about 30 people.
The students, who receive credit for a class called interdisciplinary design studio, have been working since early September, each putting in about 15 hours a week on the project.
“We took surveys, we took photos, we took some measurements,” said Michele Kott, a senior in interior design.
Their goal: create a plan to revitalize downtown in a way pleasing to Rathdrum residents.
“An anchor business that would bring the economy back up was a theater that would bring people into town,” Arnold suggested.
And an ice cream parlor would complement that theater, she said.
The students’ plans call for repairing, resurfacing or paving streets in Phase 1, fixing buildings and building the theater and ice cream parlor in Phase 2, and landscaping and installing new light fixtures in Phase 3.
If the city can get the first phase started, the other phases would be more likely to follow, Public Works Director Robert Lloyd Jr. said.
The students want to convert the old jail into a community center with a fountain in front of it. They suggested making the city more pedestrian-friendly with more deciduous trees, a pathway and an open pedestrian mall.
They would like to line the streets with old-fashioned lamps and waist-high lighted posts and uncover the fronts of the historical buildings from the turn of the century in downtown. They recommended adding an apartment building with a matching historical design.
“We tried to go ahead and incorporate the historic facades in the buildings,” said Kristina Chalfant, a senior in interior design. “We noticed that some of them had been covered up.”
But some Rathdrum residents said the historical facades had been covered up with good reason.
“Some of that brick is ugly,” said Vic Holmes, owner of Eagle Pawn in downtown Rathdrum.
He also criticized the plans for not allowing enough parking.
“What I see here would only take care of a fraction of the parking,” he said. “We’ve got to have some parking in front of our store. Like it or not, a pawn shop is a historical shop. We were here before the banks.”
The plans will be on display in City Hall for residents to examine. City staff will provide a place for residents to write comments on the plans.
But even if the students can create a plan everyone in Rathdrum likes, the city has no financial source to pay for the effort.
The city is applying for Gem Community status with the state Commerce Department. Becoming a Gem Community means the city has pledged to work toward increased economic development, Planning Administrator Jan Hale said.
“That certification will help obtain grants,” she said.
Hale urged anyone interested in participating in the Revitalization Steering Committee to contact her at 687-3010.
“We can’t go on with this project unless we keep people involved,” Bromley said. “We’re going to do it thoughtfully, slowly, and as we have the funds.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo