COEUR D’ALENE – This is shaping up to be one of the busiest summers in the Lake City, with the planned return of hydroplane racing over Labor Day weekend capping a full schedule of events that draw crowds from around the Inland Northwest.
It also will be one of the most challenging seasons for traffic flow and parking due to major construction on the south edge of downtown.
McEuen Park is being rebuilt at a cost of $20 million, and the work has closed four blocks of Front Avenue and wiped a large public parking lot off the map. It also will close the busy Third Street boat launch for the summer.
And just this week downtown merchants learned the city will close several more blocks to traffic and parking for a three-week stormwater project set to begin Monday night. The work had been scheduled for July but was moved up.
All of this seems to be a recipe for a three-month migraine. But Terry Cooper, manager of the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association, is keeping his composure.
“We are open, we are ready to have a wonderful summer, we have terrific events planned,” Cooper said.
City officials and the association representing downtown businesses are busy planning ways to ease confusion and congestion, especially on key dates like Car d’Lane and Ironman in June, the July Fourth parade and fireworks show and the early August triplet: the Downtown Street Fair, Taste of Coeur d’Alene and Art on the Green.
Visitors will be directed to a new, free parking lot along Northwest Boulevard just north of City Park, as well as a recently paved lot on Eighth Street south of City Hall. A free shuttle bus will run between those lots, with two stops downtown, starting June 7.
“We did lose McEuen (parking), but we’ve added a lot of additional parking we didn’t have before,” Cooper said. “So we’ve tried to make it very friendly.”
During major events, traffic crews and electronic signs will direct drivers to free parking areas, he added.
“So we’re doing our best to provide the convenience and enjoyment of coming to downtown Coeur d’Alene,” Cooper said.
The yearlong rebuild of McEuen Park between downtown and Tubbs Hill will require some tweaks in the layout or route of some major events this summer.
For instance, the Car d’Lane car show on Father’s Day weekend traditionally stages classic automobiles along closed sections of Sherman and Lakeside avenues. But this year, Lakeside will remain open to traffic and more of Sherman will close to showcase vintage cars, Cooper said.
The Independence Day parade route may change somewhat on the west end of Sherman, he added.
“We are coordinating with everyone to have it be as smooth a transition as possible,” Cooper said.
The McEuen project also will affect the city’s Ironman race June 23. Large tents for triathlon banquets traditionally have gone up in the park, but this summer they will be at Hubbard Street and Northwest Boulevard near the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Also, traffic will be detoured through the McEuen construction site that day because Sherman Avenue will be closed for the finish line.
Even more detours and construction noise will begin next week when the city begins installing a larger stormwater main below Third Street. As a result, Third will be closed from Front Avenue to Lakeside Avenue, and Sherman will be closed between Second and Fourth streets.
Workers will begin Monday night and will race to finish before the Friday night cruise of Car d’Lane on June 14.
Cooper said he hopes Sherman will not need to remain closed the entire three-week stretch. “There are things we’re doing to try to work with the city and contractor to expedite that closure so it’s not down that long,” he said.
Downtown shop owners are bracing for a hit this summer due to the traffic obstructions, said Mark Rogers, co-owner of The Leather Works at 215 E. Sherman Ave.
“No pain, no gain – you don’t get the benefit of a large construction project without temporary inconvenience,” Rogers said. “On the other hand, any impact on Sherman Avenue parking, access, is extremely detrimental when our season here is so valuable and so short.”
He said he’s disappointed to hear the street in front of his store will close for the stormwater work right at the start of summer.
“I suppose the good news is if they can get it the hell done in June instead of July, we’ll be that much better,” Rogers said.
Front Avenue is set to reopen in November, and the new McEuen Park is scheduled to be done May 1, 2014.