Try driving through the city of Post Falls and finding the center of town.
It’s not easy: Interstate 90 bisects the growing city. Seltice Way, one of the busiest thoroughfares, is flanked by businesses and fast-food stops. Railroad tracks crisscross neighborhoods and business areas. And City Hall is shoulder-to-shoulder with the freeway.
“Even 30 years ago, there has not been a place in Post Falls you could point to and say that’s the center of town,” said Collin Coles, senior planner for the city of Post Falls. “The town has always wanted a place that could be considered a city center.”
Post Falls officials plan for that to change.
The city of Post Falls, following a master City Center plan adopted in the summer of 2005, is making steps to revitalize an approximately 300-acre area of town, which includes streets south of I-90 at the Spokane Street exit, extending to the Spokane River and east to Idaho Street.
The City Center plan calls for making the area more pedestrian-friendly, creating a downtown identity and promoting a mix of retail, office and residential use.
In the coming year, the city is constructing a new City Hall and redoing a portion of Fourth Avenue to motivate businesses and residences to spruce up the area.
“We’re a city that is trying to define ourselves,” City Administrator Eric Keck said. “We are trying to find out who we are and who we want to be when we grow up.”
In a partnership with the city’s efforts, the Post Falls Urban Renewal Agency also identified the area in 1994 for economic revitalization, and in 2002 expanded the size of the City Center district. The agency hopes to improve street conditions, bike and pedestrian paths, parking and landscaping.
“It’s a continuing effort to enhance that area of the city,” said Len Crosby, the agency’s chairman.
Building City Hall
The City Center plan will get a jump-start this year with the construction of a new City Hall on Spokane Street.
The project – which has been more than 15 years in the making – cleared its final hurdle last week when the City Council approved financing for the $7.1 million construction contract.
“This is a very historic moment,” Mayor Clay Larkin said at the City Council meeting. “We thank you for your patience and support.”
Coeur d’Alene-based Ginno Construction may begin this week on the 41,000-square-foot building, set to open in spring 2008.
The current City Hall, which is plagued by maintenance problems, will be torn down after the new facility is finished, city officials said.
The new building – complete with a plaza – will bring more city services under one roof and will inject more energy into the downtown area, city officials said.
“The City Hall will be a huge focal point,” Keck said.
Redoing Fourth Avenue
This summer, the city and the Post Falls Urban Renewal Agency plan to redo two blocks of Fourth Avenue, east of Spokane Street to Idaho Street.
The more than $1.3 million project will repave the cracked street, give it new curbs and sidewalks and install decorative lighting and landscaping. Later on, the city would like to put in benches and additional landscaping.
City officials say they hope it will demonstrate how the area can be improved and ultimately motivate others to spiff up the downtown district.
“I think it’s really going to show the potential for that portion of the city,” said Bill Melvin, Post Falls city engineer. “I think it will help be the anchor for the downtown core.”
The city and Urban Renewal Agency are seeking $500,000 for an Idaho community development grant to help fund the project. The city may hear next month whether Post Falls is chosen for the grant, city officials said.
The Urban Renewal Agency, which is partnering with the city on the project, also is contributing $725,000, according to the agency.
If all goes well, the project could begin this summer and finish by fall, city officials said.
The makeover will give people more opportunities to walk along the streets, Keck said. Spokane River is less than a quarter mile away. Falls Park gives access to the waterfall at the Post Falls dam. And the Centennial Trail is nearby.
“This area lends itself extremely well to that,” Keck said.
The street lighting and landscaping also will help establish a uniform standard for the way Post Falls wants to look, he said.
“We don’t have any aesthetic theme in Post Falls,” Keck said. “This is the beginning in the downtown area of choosing a look that we can replicate throughout the community.”
The city hopes bringing more attention to the City Center area will encourage the growth of new businesses.
“The goal is to have homegrown small business, which is what really makes the world go around down here,” Keck said. “We want to see that that occurs.”
City officials say they hope infrastructure improvements, marketing efforts and incentives, such as expediting the process for getting set up in the downtown area, will encourage new growth.
“I’m hopeful to get the ball rolling with getting people investing in the downtown area,” Keck said. “We just need to (bring) it all together and make it more enticing for people to be living, working and playing here.”