Coeur d’Alene is the best chance Idaho has for snagging a $20 million Salvation Army grant to build a community center.
Local leaders and youth advocates were ecstatic Wednesday after learning Coeur d’Alene was picked by the Idaho Kroc Initiative Task Force, chaired by Patricia Kempthorne, wife of Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, as the state’s top pick.
That means Coeur d’Alene is the one Idaho city that will compete with applications from 12 other Western states for five to seven grants to build Kroc Centers.
McDonald’s heiress Joan B. Kroc bestowed $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army – the largest donation ever given to a charity – to build community centers modeled after the $50 million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in San Diego.
“This is absolutely thrilling,” said Nancy Taylor, a Hayden city councilwoman and swim coach at Coeur d’Alene High School, who has worked for 15 years to get a community center in Kootenai County. “We are basically a poster child for a lack of a community center. If you look at our population and median income, we have nothing like that.”
Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem and Sue Thilo, who has worked on other community center efforts, both serve on the 31-member task force that picked Coeur d’Alene from nine communities across Idaho.
Bloem, who was returning from the task force meeting in Boise, said the Salvation Army thought Coeur d’Alene had the best probability of submitting a grant application capable of scoring all 100 points and getting one of the grants that will go to Western cities.
Coeur d’Alene and the Salvation Army have until March to complete the formal grant application, which will include more specific plans for the $20 million facility.
“I think they were convinced Coeur d’Alene could represent the state of Idaho really well,” Bloem said. “It was a tough decision because there are a lot of underserved people and communities in Idaho.”
Currently Kootenai County has no community center, public swimming pool, Boys and Girls Club or YMCA. It also has no Salvation Army presence. Bloem said that helped show the area’s desperate need to give people of all ages a place to gather and recreate.
“Mrs. Kroc’s vision to create opportunity will not only benefit the people of Coeur d’Alene through its programs but our whole state though a flagship facility that creates jobs and stimulates neighborhood renewal,” Patricia Kempthorne said in a press release.
Coeur d’Alene is looking at two possible locations, both of which are in the city’s urban renewal districts, but Bloem declined to provide any specifics.
Because the Salvation Army can’t spend any money on buying land, Bloem said a developer would have to donate the property. Unlike the city, the city’s quasi-public Urban Renewal Agency can donate land to a private entity. Bloem said that gives the city more flexibility in finding the land for the Salvation Army.
The $20 million grant also would come with an additional $20 million operational endowment to help pay for running and maintaining the center. Coeur d’Alene city Finance Director Troy Tymesen said that likely means taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay anything for the community center.
The Salvation Army would own and run the center, but anybody – regardless of their income – could use the facility.
Coeur d’Alene has been striving for a community center for years. In 1999, voters shot down a proposal to build a $6.3 million community center.
Coeur d’Alene recently was working on a land swap deal with the Coeur d’Alene School District that would result in a new middle school for the district and a community center for the city. But that exchange was put on hold for several years because the school district doesn’t have the money to build a new middle school.
Another idea currently floating in Kootenai County is building a multimillion dollar recreational and cultural center on the Rathdrum Prairie. That notion would require the Legislature to expand the half-cent sales tax the county is charging to pay for the jail expansion and property tax relief. If the law is changed, county residents would have to vote to use the sales tax money for a civic center.
Taylor said all these interests must work together to make sure Coeur d’Alene gets the Kroc grant.
“All these groups need to band together and not be fractioned and territorial,” Taylor said. “This is truly an answer for us and we don’t have to raise taxes and skim corners to have a place for citizens to recreate. This is a once in a lifetime chance.”