Coeur d’Alene has been on an impressive roll.
Since the first of the year, voters have passed bonds to finance a state-of-the-art downtown library and upgrade public safety buildings and equipment.
Developer Marshall Chesrown has a plan in the works to build a new lumber mill at Hauser and swap it to Stimson Lumber Co. for two sites on the Spokane River, one of which would be used to expand North Idaho College.
Also, the Lake City is close to landing a $29 million Kroc grant for a new community center, and developers, such as native son Duane Hagadone, are proposing high-rises on the waterfront as fast as the City Council can approve them.
After struggling through years of vacant storefronts downtown, Mayor Sandi Bloem’s administration, council members and urban renewal experts have a right to feel proud that their vision of a revitalized central business district and waterfront has taken root.
Additionally, they are wise to realize that this isn’t the time to take a break from the difficult task of guiding the growth in the urban renewal district. The city will create another problem for itself and possibly harm downtown revitalization momentum if it allows the middle- and lower-income classes to be priced out of the town’s southern neighborhoods.
Coeur d’Alene needs the multi-million-dollar condo projects proposed by Hagadone, Chesrown, John Stone and others along East Sherman Avenue, Front Avenue, The Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course and the Spokane River.
But it also needs a housing mix that will keep young families, seniors, college students and other socioeconomic groups in the downtown area to fill schools in the south end of town and support expanded retail offerings.
The wealthy, who can afford a $2.5 million condo on Lake Coeur d’Alene as a second or third home, aren’t going to sustain downtown businesses by themselves.
Fortunately, Mayor Bloem and other visionaries understand the need for a solid demographic mix spreading out from Sherman Avenue.
“We want people who will be there to support the bakery and the hardware store,” said member Dave Patzer at an urban renewal agency meeting last week.
In preparation for more modest dwellings, the City Council has approved new zones that change densities and setback requirements for condos, townhouses and other dwellings that could transform blighted areas in Midtown into neighborhoods along the one-way Third and Fourth streets.
The urban renewal agency is also considering investing $200,000 in old-fashioned lamp posts and perennial flower beds along a four-block section of Garden Avenue, one of the few east-west arterials in the downtown area, to spruce up the area dissecting the Kootenai County Courthouse and tie in to the one-way streets.
The goal of that project is to encourage students and instructors who may decide to live in Midtown in the future to walk and bike to North Idaho College.
The downtown face of Coeur d’Alene is changing daily, for the better. It won’t be long before it becomes the place of which Mayor Bloem and others could only dream decades ago when they struggled to find consensus and funding to overhaul Sherman Avenue.
With continued careful planning to provide housing for a variety of residents, the city will achieve its long-sought goal of “saving the downtown.”
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