The Sand Creek Byway has been a hotly contested issue in Sandpoint for several years, dividing business owners and residents who eagerly shared their arguments either for or against a highway bypass. But now that the construction of the byway is well under way, many on both sides of the issue are concerned that visitors may not take the time to explore Sandpoint’s quaint and scenic downtown.
“We are all looking forward to the completion of the byway,” said Marsha Ogilvie, who received the most votes in November for one four-year seat on the Sandpoint City Council. “Until then we can be proactive and plan for the future. I think the possibilities are exciting for the downtown corridor. The City Council needs to aggressively pursue the continued revitalization of downtown. The downtown is the life blood of our community.”
One change that’s sure to help keep visitors coming downtown is the much anticipated move later this month of the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, which will relocate from its current location on Highway 2 to the former Panhandle State Bank building.
“Visitors to our area often go to the chamber first for information, and bringing these visitors into the downtown core will bring their potential business as well,” said newly elected council member Jamie Davis. “In addition, the chamber’s function as a business network will pull potential new businesses into the downtown area.”
Amy Little, the chamber’s executive director, said the move was precipitated by financial concerns as well as a need to connect better with the community.
“The building we are in currently is over 30 years old and has a lot of repair and maintenance issues. We also basically run a rest stop for the city, county and state with no financial support from them to offset the costs of not only building maintenance but the maintenance of our grounds,” said Little, who adds that it would cost $10,000 just to repair the roof of the current chamber and visitor’s center. “More importantly, we also had been thinking of looking at ways to combine forces and facilitate better communication with other nonprofits. The (new) location offers us a chance to do that.”
Justin Schuck, another newly elected City Council member, is excited about the opportunities for growth that the chamber move will bring.
“Having the location downtown will surely help tourists access pertinent information while visiting the downtown core,” said Schuck, who adds that the new location will help promote relationships among downtown merchants, the Downtown Sandpoint Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce. “The new location is much more amenable for meetings, gatherings, and a hub for co-sponsored events.”
Little said many people assume – incorrectly – that the Chamber of Commerce and the visitor’s center are the same entity.
“The two entities are separate but complementary to one another,” she said. Unlike the chamber, the visitors’ center operates at a deficit each year, forcing the chamber’s budget to cover the shortfall.
“We (provide financial support) because the visitor’s center helps us further our mission to support, develop and promote the business community of the greater Sandpoint area,” Little said.