Downtown Coeur d’Alene is about to find out what $45,000 buys in the way of a revitalization plan.
The final recommendations will affect a wider area than just the shopping district around Sherman Avenue. They are designed to address the concerns of midtown and Northwest Boulevard business owners as well.
“That’s the anticipation,” said Doyle Hyett, chairman of Hyett-Palma, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm. “But the biggest stage in any community is downtown. That makes it a good place to try new things.”
On Monday, Hyett-Palma will present a five- to seven-year strategic plan with a subset of one-year “action agendas.”
The City Council hired the firm last summer to outline steps to turn things around in a downtown core that has been losing retail stores and struggling to redefine itself in a changing economy.
Since August, Hyett-Palma has led community meetings, customer/employee focus groups and issue sessions with “all the groups that have a stake in downtown,” Hyett said Wednesday.
Hyett declined to discuss specific aspects of the taxpayer-funded plan, but area business people have their own wish lists drawn up in advance of Monday’s presentation.
“So much has been geared toward attracting retailers or getting them to stay downtown,” said Chad Dwyer, a commercial specialist in Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty’s commercial division. “In my opinion, we should be thinking about mixed use, where you have a combination of offices and residential properties.”
That mixture of a residential foundation and an office population would provide retailers with a ready base of customers, he added.
“Once you have office users downtown, they will require retail services,” Dwyer said.
Jobs Plus President Bob Potter said he has worked for the past two years to bring Dakotah Direct to Coeur d’Alene for that very reason. The direct-marketing firm will add about 70 jobs when it moves into the former First Security Bank mortgage loan building on Sherman Avenue this month.
“It’s a meaningful thing for downtown,” Potter said. “I’ve got to get more business people down there, as opposed to just retail and tourism.”
Demand is strong for high-quality office space in downtown Coeur d’Alene, according to Dwyer, but parking remains an issue.
“We’re going to address that,” Hyett said. “Parking came up high on our list of concerns.”
Sandi Bloem co-chaired the committee that spearheaded efforts to draft an action plan with City Council President Nancy Sue Wallace. Bloem’s family has a 90-year history downtown and she has owned Johannes & Co. Jewelers on Sherman Avenue for the past 20 years.
The 24-member Lake City Coalition prefers to think in terms of “a viable downtown,” she said, as opposed to a “revitalized” district.
“The reason I use the word viable is that people are already saying, ‘Well, we revitalized once,”’ Bloem said, recalling infrastructure improvements along Sherman and Lakeside seven years ago.
“What we’re working on now is staying healthy and well.”
Unlike other proponents of a repackaged downtown, Bloem doesn’t see parking as a hurdle.
“We have the perception of a parking problem,” she said, pointing to the availability of city parking within walking distance of the shopping core. “I hope I live long enough to see lack of space be the cause of a parking problem downtown.”
Hyett, whose firm has conducted economic enhancement strategies for more than 200 downtowns from Anniston, Ala., to Seward, Alaska, said Coeur d’Alene comes into the process at an advantage.
“The downtown has a healthy mix of goods and services to begin with and the natural resources are beyond belief,” the consultant said. “We’re not starting from scratch. … if you look around Idaho and the rest of America, Coeur d’Alene does not have an inordinate amount of empty stores.”
By serving up recommendations in one-year bites, Hyett hopes to ensure the blueprint for downtown revitalization doesn’t meet the fate of many long-term strategies and become just another unused plan.
“We don’t want our clients to spend all their time dreaming,” he said. “We want them to be doing things.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: COMING UP Hyett-Palma will present its final recommendations for downtown Coeur d’Alene at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Fernan Elementary School.
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