The Coeur d’Alene City Council on Tuesday voted 5-1 to move forward on a plan to dramatically update its aging downtown park, McEuen Field, despite extensive opposition, mostly to removing the baseball fields and the Third Street boat launch.
“You can beat on me. You can not like me. My next time around if you don’t re-elect me, that’s fine,” said Councilman Woody McEvers. But, he said, “I’m going to do the best job I can for the future. I’m doing the best I can and that’s how I came to this decision.”
Councilman Ron Edinger cast the dissenting vote.
“I’ve got a clear conscience. I can get up and look in the mirror and say, ‘Ron, you did one hell of a job,’” Edinger said to wild applause from the crowd, most of whom favored putting the matter to a public vote.
The vote came after a lengthy and heated public hearing that drew as many as 400 people. Thirty minutes into Tuesday’s meeting, dozens of audience members began shaking “public vote” signs and chanting “vote, vote, vote!”
It was par for the course in a process that has drawn extensive controversy and opposition over the past few months since a steering committee and design team released the plan.
Highlights include relocating the Third Street boat launch and ball fields, reducing the size of the surface parking lot and adding acres of green space and walking trails.
Hundreds of people showed up to either cheer or jeer the plan. Supporters called it a visionary plan that would make the park more accessible to more people. One woman even pledged $5,000 to support the park update, along with 300 hours of volunteer labor.
“We need to save McEuen from atrophy and under-utilization,” said Jennifer Drake, a fourth generation Coeur d’Alene resident. “It’s about aiming for greatness and only being happy when we achieve it. It is absolutely the right thing to do for this community.”
However, opponents decried the removal of the boat launch and said the plan would create a Disneyland-like park not in keeping with Coeur d’Alene’s small-town feel. They said it was inappropriate to spend millions on it during an economic downtown. Two even sang Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” – “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
“No way has the community come up and asked for a vote in anything as strong as this,” said Sharon Culbreth. “Take it to a public vote. The city can’t afford this at this time. Please don’t be so arrogant.”
Before public comment began, council President Ron Edinger made four motions – to eliminate any changes to Tubbs Hill, to leave the ball fields and boat launch in place and to put the matter to a public vote.
Only the motion to remove any consideration of Tubbs Hill from the plan passed. The council said any changes to the popular nature park, such as making it more accessible to people who use wheelchairs, would be taken up separately.
The council also approved a motion made by Councilman Mike Kennedy that requires that no new taxes, levies or bonds be used to pay for the changes to the park.
Cost estimates for the plan range from $23 million to $40 million with a two- to three-level parking structure as the biggest ticket item. Other costs for the plan’s 27 different elements range from $55,000 for a sledding hill to $428,000 for a children’s play area to $2 million for a grand plaza and waterfront promenade.
Although funding for the entire plan has not been identified, the city’s urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corp., has said it has about $12 million to devote to several public projects, including McEuen Field. How much will be made available, and for which features of the park, remains to be seen.
The plan includes replacing the boat launch at Silver Beach on Lake Coeur d’Alene and relocating the ball fields elsewhere in the city. The plan emerged after months of meetings between a 21-person steering committee and a design team. Adjustments were made after numerous public meetings and the return of 1,400 surveys.