Summer crowds ran into some major public works projects in downtown Coeur d’Alene the past few years, with blocked streets and reduced parking.
This season the construction zone is next to City Park, a popular and shady summer destination on Lake Coeur d’Alene and a central location for big events such as Ironman, Independence Day and Taste of the Coeur d’Alenes.
The city is rebuilding and narrowing the street between the park and the grandstand at Memorial Field to make it a “pedestrian-focused corridor” that’s safer for those on foot and a more attractive gateway to City Park. Curbs are in and paving is set for next week.
A new landscaped plaza is going in next to Memorial Field, and next to it crews are building the base of a new octagonal structure that will house the historic carousel from the former Playland Pier amusement park on the lakeshore.
The street, formerly Mullan Avenue, now is named Fort Grounds Drive. The new design will allow the city to close the street to vehicles between two new traffic circles, opening up a pedestrian corridor for major community events like the Fourth of July festivities.
Crossing the street on busy summer weekends has been a bit risky, and the city aims to eliminate that problem.
“Safety is No. 1,” said Dennis Grant, the project manager.
A new paved parking lot also is going in near Memorial Field, and the project area – including the historic railroad battery building that houses the Human Rights Education Institute – will have 140 public parking spaces when finished.
The city aims to finish the $1.5 million project by July 26, just 10 days before crowds descend on the area for Art on the Green, Taste of the Coeur d’Alenes and Downtown Street Fair on Aug. 5-7.
It also will be done well ahead of Ironman Coeur d’Alene, which moves this summer to Aug. 21. The triathlon has been held in the Lake City in June, but competitors never liked the lake’s cold water early in the summer, so it was pushed to a warmer month.
Also new to Coeur d’Alene this summer is an Ironman 70.3 – a triathlon of half the distance of a regular Ironman. That race is scheduled for June 26 and already has more than 3,000 entries – almost twice the number in the full Ironman last June.
“So Coeur d’Alene is proving to be very popular for that race,” said Steve Wilson, president and CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
Because Ironman 70.3 competitors swim 1.2 miles, instead of 2.4 miles, their exposure to cold water is less of a concern, Wilson said.
The Ironman route has been modified slightly to skirt the Fort Grounds Drive construction, and also to lessen downtown street closures that have frustrated retailers in previous years. After the swim leg of the race, competitors will hop on their bicycles and exit City Park in a different area. Also, the transition from bikes to the running leg will take them across the Centennial Trail in front of the Coeur d’Alene Resort and into McEuen Park.
These changes will free up Lakeside Avenue – a key east-west arterial downtown – much earlier in the day, Wilson said.
“So a significant, positive impact on retailers and streets closures, certainly comparing June to June, and if all works well operationally on this test and everyone’s happy, we’ll employ that same approach to the August race,” he said.
As for the carousel, organizers have raised enough money to build a structure to house it, and hope to have the attraction installed and running by this fall.
The Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation, a nonprofit group, has raised about $320,000 in its campaign to bring back the 1922 Stillman carousel, which was part of the lakefront amusement park at Independence Point more than 40 years ago.
The foundation wants to raise $450,000 for the building and to endow the carousel’s maintenance and operation. The attraction’s 20 horses and other parts have been restored and sitting in storage for more than four years.
The city is leasing park space to the foundation for the carousel, which is about half the size of the Looff Carrousel in Spokane’s Riverfront Park. It will operate May through October.
“We’re hoping to have our building open by Labor Day, sooner if things go well,” said Rita Sims-Snyder, secretary of the foundation’s board. “It’s really going to be a beautiful addition to that area.”
Tax-deductible donations to the carousel project can be made at cdacarousel.org or sent to Coeur d’Alene Carousel Foundation, P.O. Box 170, Coeur d’Alene, 83816. Donors can buy etched tiles, ranging from $250 to $1,100, for the building’s floor.
The Fort Grounds Drive/Memorial Plaza project, partially funded by city urban renewal dollars, was designed by Welch-Comer Engineers of Coeur d’Alene. Cameron-Reilly Concrete of Spokane Valley is the general contractor.
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