Closed-door meetings and rumors of reviving a botanical garden at McEuen Field have the McEuen Preservation Alliance worried that public use of the downtown park will be usurped by urban renewal.
After a few months of watching the Urban Renewal Commission work, “it’s turning out to be what we feared,” said Charlie Roan of the McEuen Preservation Alliance. High on the list of worries is the amount of time the commission spends in executive session.
“Our greatest fear is they are going to make it appear the public has some input, and will appear to listen, when it’s already a done deal,” Roan said.
“I don’t want something done behind closed doors resurrecting botanical gardens on McEuen,” added Anne Solomon, also of the alliance.
Charlie Nipp, chairman of the Urban Renewal Commission, and City Manager Ken Thompson did not return phone calls Friday.
The Urban Renewal Commission held no executive sessions for its first five meetings. But beginning in January, the closed-door meetings have become a standard part of the agenda.
Much of its Thursday meeting was spent behind closed doors. The group has spent a total of more than five hours in executive session during its five meetings this year, according to city records.
All of the executive sessions have been necessary to discuss the possibility of purchasing real estate, according to the commission’s records. And a developer with a downtown project on the table wants the city to commit to coming up with $2.8 million toward a parking garage.
But Solomon says the move to closed-door meetings “doesn’t engender confidence - and this is a plan than needs public confidence,” she said. “What’s there to hide?”
At one meeting, she heard the commission say it was going to discuss funding for the master plan involving McEuen Field in executive session. “What’s so secret about the source of funding for the plan?” she said.
The alliance was formed when the Coeur d’Alene City Council decided downtown needed a face lift and appointed an Urban Renewal Commission to oversee the task. An urban renewal blueprint adopted by the city stipulated creation of a master plan for the McEuen area.
During public hearings on the idea, citizens voiced concern that such a master plan would be a means for a chosen few who would decide the future of the city’s largest and most popular green space - McEuen Field and park.
Opponents pointed to a proposal by Duane Hagadone, who owns the resort next to the park, for turning the field into a botanical garden as one reason for the concern.
Last year, Hagadone offered the city $2 million if it would put a library and botanical garden on McEuen Field. Hagadone later withdrew that offer.
Deanna Goodlander, a Coeur d’Alene city councilwoman, has suggested to the Urban Renewal Commission that the garden be revived - at the site of the current city parking lot.
Goodlander, however, says she is suggesting a combination underground parking garage and botanical garden, not a garden on the green space. She also emphasizes that she was making the suggestion as a private citizen, not a councilwoman.
Mayor Steve Judy, meanwhile, says he knows of no proposal for reviving the botanical gardens. And he is determined McEuen deliberations will be as open and as public as possible. Judy has called for volunteers to serve on a commission that will develop suggestions for the McEuen area.
“I’m going to try to get a manageable group of people that represent a wide array of interests,” Judy added.
The City Council will have the final say. In any case, “the green space at McEuen has to be preserved and enhanced,” Judy said. “I think it should be a showcase for us…kind of like Butchart Gardens.”
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