From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Kevin Eskelin’s bar and restaurant hops with activity. Located at the edge of City Park in Coeur d’Alene, the Parkside Bistro opens at 11 a.m. and doesn’t close until midnight, all summer long.
This has been a dream,” the 41-year-old owner said. “There’s nothing that has this kind of feel in the Inland Northwest.”
But the Parkside and one other downtown business could soon be out of business. For years, they have leased the land their businesses occupy from BNSF Railway Co., which recently received federal approval to abandon six miles of rail line between downtown Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.
When the abandonment is complete, the land that is home to the Parkside and the Atlas Warehouse on Northwest Boulevard will revert to the city of Coeur d’Alene. The city does not intend to renew the leases, because when it received that land from the federal government in 1904, a mandatory condition held that it be used for park purposes, said City Attorney Mike Gridley.
The railroad used the land under an easement for more than 100 years, but that has now ended, Gridley said. “It’s our property. The railroad has had the use of it and that right has now expired.”
Part of the abandoned railroad right of way is envisioned to be incorporated into the future education corridor. Land stretching north from downtown, beyond City Park and west of Northwest Boulevard, could become home to residential or commercial development complementary to Coeur d’Alene’s growing college campus.
Don Johnston said his family has owned and operated the Atlas Warehouse since 1946, leasing space to other businesses.
The Parkside Bistro has operated for decades under a variety of names, including the BeeHive and the Catcher in the Rye. Eskelin bought it in 1996.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t want this place to go,” said Eskelin, pointing to dollar bills stapled to the walls, signed by customers, and pictures of babies born to couples who first met at the bar. “It’s a part of what the locals appreciate.”
Gridley said the city can’t help that because, in addition to the federal government’s conditional granting of the land, the city receives federal Land and Water Conservation Fund money to support operations in City Park. That program prohibits commercial endeavors in which the revenue does not benefit the park, he said.
It’s not clear when the tracks will be torn up and when the land exchange will be finalized – uncertainty which has left Eskelin in limbo. His 10-year lease expires in April, and he struggles through the off-season. He doesn’t want to take additional losses if he’s not going to reach the lucrative summer season, he said. He’d like the city to compensate him for loss of his business, including the $75,000 worth of debt he’s accrued through two years of a bad economy, which included a roof collapse under heavy snowfall.
Johnston, of the Atlas Warehouse, said he’s in negotiations with the city but doesn’t feel he has many options. “I hate to see it come to this, but they’re putting me out of business,” he said.
Gridley said compensation for the businesses is unlikely. He said business owners operating on leased land would have to know they might one day lose that right. “You don’t have anything going into it,” Gridley said. “With eyes wide open, it’s a risk you take on if you do your due diligence.”