Coeur d’Alene hasn’t always been known as a resort town.
Before the famous hotel and iconic golf course, the name Coeur d’Alene was more synonymous with logging or mining than it was with tourism and relaxation.
But as logging and mining’s fortunes faded throughout the mid-1900s, the area needed to foster a new industry in order to stay prosperous. Duane Hagadone, probably more than anyone else, was the man who guided the region’s transition.
“(We) needed to make some changes,” former Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem said. “He was foremost in saying tourism could get us where we wanted to be.”
Hagadone, the megamillionaire developer and media mogul, died Saturday at his winter home in Palm Desert, California. He was 88.
A North Idaho native, Hagadone started his business career young as a newspaper delivery boy at his father’s paper, the Coeur d’Alene Press. He dropped out of college at the University of Idaho to come back to the Press and sell subscriptions and advertising.
Hagadone eventually became publisher of the Press after his father died of cancer at 49. Hagadone’s media company owned over a dozen papers and media organizations.
But Hagadone’s flagship business was probably the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Hagadone marketed the business aggressively, building it up into one of the premier resort destinations in America. The resort’s famous floating green on the 14th hole was Hagadone’s idea.
People who knew Hagadone said Coeur d’Alene would be a dramatically different place without the real estate giant’s influence.
“Duane was the most creative man I’ve ever known,” said Bloem, who has known Hagadone her entire life. “He could dream bigger and he just knew how to make those dreams come true.”
Multiple elected officials and leaders said Hagadone was a uniquely creative businessman.
“Duane was a tremendous visionary and an incredibly savvy business person,” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer told The Spokesman-Review in a statement. “He could have chosen to invest anywhere. But he chose to invest in his hometown of 88 years because he loved Coeur d’Alene.”
Not only did Hagadone change Coeur d’Alene’s image, he also created jobs in the region.
Coeur d’Alene Resort employed thousands of residents throughout the years. David Kilmer, who captains Hagadone’s sailboat Sizzler, said in a Facebook post honoring Hagadone that it often seemed almost like everyone in town worked at the resort at one time or another.
Tony Stewart, a longtime human rights activist who was a professor and tennis coach at North Idaho College, said Hagadone was both a talented tennis player and a prodigious philanthropist.
For 17 years, Hagadone went nearly undefeated at the annual Kootenai County Closed Tournament, Stewart said. And Hagadone helped pay for two new courts that allowed the tournament to run more quickly.
Hagadone may have been famous in part due to his incredible wealth – one of his Coeur d’Alene homes was once on the market for $27.5 million – but those who knew him said he was far from a miser.
The Boys and Girls Club in Coeur d’Alene is named after Hagadone and his wife, Lola, whose $2 million donation helped the project come to frutition. Hagadone gave widely to a variety of causes, especially in education. Bloem noted that Hagadone frequently paid for local fireworks displays that light up the 4th of July and the Thanksgiving weekend.
Hagadone was also a vocal critic of white supremacy and Northern Idaho’s Aryan Nations movement. In 1999, he gave the city of ] Coeur d’Alene $20,000 in matching funds to pay a lawyer to draft new city ordinances that would make it more difficult for neo-Nazis to hold parades in the city. Hagadone threatened to sue the city if there was another Aryan Nations parade.
Coeur d’Alene residents didn’t always support Hagadone’s development proposals. Hagadone and local governments clashed often over building projects throughout the decades.
Still, Hagadone deserves a large share of the credit for Coeur d’Alene’s current status as a resort town, Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Dan English said. But claims of backroom deals and pressure campaigns from the multimillionaire are exaggerated, English said.
“There was never, ever the least bit of contact, off the books for something,” English said.
“When you look at the big picture, there’s no question that he’s been a huge asset to this town,” the councilman said.
Stewart said Hagadone rarely steamrolled those who opposed him. At different times in the early 2000s, Hagadone withdrew proposals for a flower garden and new hotel tower on Sherman Avenue due to strong public resistance.
Mary Lou Reed, a former Democratic state senator from 1984 to 1996 who pushed for land use reform and environmental conservation with her late husband, Scott, said she found herself at odds sometimes with Hagadone.
“Duane always loved his hometown and its economy,” Reed said.
She recalled one winter when Hagadone cleared the iced-over surface of Coeur d’Alene Lake near the beach so kids could skate.
“It’s sort of one of those visuals that stays with you,” Reed said.
Stewart said he admired Hagadone for not attacking his critics in the press, even though he owned many media outlets.
“I never saw Duane ever come back in the media and personally attack any individual,” Stewart said.
Bloem said Hagadone helped reinvent Coeur d’Alene.
“His investment in the community in so many ways has made the community what it is today,” Bloem said. “I don’t know of anyone that has made a bigger difference and a better difference than Duane has.”
Staff writer Kip Hill contributed to this story.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.