NEWSREVIEW.pngIssue 27/June 2014

Our mission is to bring together resources to achieve Coeur d’Alene’s vision of a diverse, sustainable community with healthy neighborhoods, a vibrant central city, a strong regional economy, sustainable, superior public open spaces, and quality jobs and housing for all.

A passion for special places lands Welch-Comer 4-Corners contract

In May, we shared that Welch Comer Engineers (WC) was selected to be the team that would be recommended to the CDA city council to be asked to submit a quotation to design the Master Plan for the Four Corners Project. We are pleased to announce that on June 3, the City Council awarded Welch Comer the Four-Corners BLM Master Plan contract, and has authorized city staff to negotiate an agreement. Lake City Development was asked to fund 75% of the creation of the master plan by Bill Greenwood, City Parks Interim Director, at LCDC’s monthly board meeting on June 18.  Board member, Deana Goodlander, cast the motion to fund the plan which was unanimously approved.  “The other 25% will come from community investors”, stated Greenwood.

boyd_p-head-shot.jpgFrom their offices in Coeur d’Alene, Welch Comer has been providing civil engineering and urban redevelopment services since 1979. “When Dell Hatch, landscape architect joined the firm that is when our specialized talents in urban planning really took off”, expressed WC president Phil Boyd. Welch Comer has also recently been awarded the contract from the Idaho Department of Transportation to create the master plan for Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive from Sherman Avenue to Higgins Point. “We feel very fortunate to have been selected to develop the master plans for these two very special places, WC has a passion for creating special places for people, and what better place to be able to do it in than Coeur d’Alene”, added Boyd.
When asked about the next steps in the master planning process for the Four Corners BLM project, Boyd said they are now focusing on organizing all of the ideas and proposed uses that were previously gathered in the past 8 months of workshops and meetings. "Many ideas were brought forth for consideration for the 29 acre area, we must now figure out what is feasible, and what the highest and best use will be for the community”, said Boyd.

There are nine scheduled meetings with the new steering committee which is made up of the members of the previous selection committee: Mayor Steve Widmyer, Dave Patzer (LCDC Board Member), Bill Greenwood (City Parks Dept. Director), Scott Cranston (Chairman of CdA Parks and Recreation Commission), and Steve Anthony (Recreation Director).

Two more workshops will be held to narrow down the multitude of ideas that came out of the previous community workshops. WC will also hold six small group meetings to hear the concerns, questions and needs of the stakeholders in close proximity to the project which includes North Idaho College, the Fort Grounds Homeowners Association, Kootenai County, North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation and the LCDC. Then of course, there public presentations to CDA city council will occur, starting with an Initial Master Plan Concept I, which will result in a Concept II Plan, which will then be fine-tuned before presenting the Concept III Master Plan for final approval to city council in October. 

Midtown Affordable Housing project is far from “Subsidized Stereotype”

The National Association of Home Builders published a report that found that more than 19.4 million American households, or 49 percent of total households renting homes in 2010 were “rent-burdened”, or paying more than 30 percent of household income for rent. In fact, 25% of renting households pay more than 50% of their income in rent. These statistics were gathered from the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). The study also found that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program was important in meeting community needs for housing.

What is LIHTC?

In 1986 Congress established a program to encourage large corporations to invest in the building of affordable rental housing to help alleviate the growing housing problem across the country. The “low-income housing tax credit” program (LIHTC) creates an incentive for large corporations by giving them a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, which can be used to offset their federal tax obligations.  In general, 85% of the LIHTC awards go to corporations in the financial sector.

For bank investors, these credits offer a true "double bottom line" opportunity. In addition to the economic returns available to banks in the form of a Midtown_THC_Color_Plan_with_park_5-2014.jpgcredit that reduces their federal and state taxes, LIHTCs allow banks to earn positive consideration toward their regulatory ratings under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

Developers, who create affordable housing projects for communities in need, compete with other developers in their state, in hopes that their project will be awarded the tax credits. If their project is chosen, the developer basically sells these credits to any interested eligible corporation. This is turn, reduces the debt that the developer would otherwise have to borrow. Because the debt is lower, a tax credit property can offer lower, more affordable rents to working class households that meet median family incomes limits. In Kootenai County these limits are based on an income of 60% of the area’s median gross income (AMGI) of $55,800 for a family of 4.

Low income housing tax credits are a very valuable commodity, in that they are not simply a tax deduction, but a dollar-for-dollar credit. As the example below illustrates, tax credits can have a much larger impact than tax deductions.

Credits versus Deductions
Credits: Tax credits are subtracted directly from one's tax liability. Credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar. For example: A $1,000 credit in a 15% tax bracket reduces tax liability by $1,000. 
Deductions: Tax deductions are subtracted from a taxpayer's total income to compute his or her tax base. Deductions reduce tax liability by the amount of the deduction times the tax rate. For example: A $1,000 deduction in 15% tax bracket reduces taxable income by $1,000, thereby reducing tax liability by $150.

The state of Idaho currently has $3,600,000 LIHTC’s available for low income affordable housing projects. This amount is based on Idaho’s total population at $1.75 per resident. Each developer is limited to $850,000 in credits per project. However, the credits are taken each year, for 10 years,making their total value $8,500,000.

The Housing Company, the developer for Coeur d’Alene’s Midtown project will be competing against several other projects statewide. No one knows in advance how many projects will be submitted, or by whom. Douglas Peterson, from the Housing Company explained that projects are scored on a point system. Projects with the highest scores are awarded the LIHTC’s.

The Midtown project was previously submitted back in February of 2013, and scored high enough to be awarded the LIHTC’s. However, lack of support for the project by the City of CDA, and some community opposition to the project stemming from a misunderstanding of affordable housing in general, caused the Housing Company to withdraw the project from the process.

With much renewed interest in the Midtown project from the community, plans call for submission into the competition this September. However, since the last submittal, a revised scoring system has been implemented into the mix, and it is unclear if the Midtown project will receive the same scores as before. “The Housing Company is working diligently to make this project come to fruition, and bring much needed affordable housing to the Midtown district”, stated Douglas Peterson, HC director.

“If awarded the LIHTC’s, the Midtown project will still need to go through the usual planning and zoning process, and meet local requirements just like any other commercial building project in Coeur d’Alene”, said Tony Berns, LCDC Executive Director.

Since April 2012 we have been providing a monthly newsletter to let you know what projects the Lake City Development Corporation is involved in. A few of the stories we have shared are worthy of sharing again. This month we would like to bring you one of our "best of" LCDC articles. Enjoy.

Saving SorensonSorenson-School-2.jpg
Community pulls together to
sustain historic downtown school

It was 2006 and by many accounts, Sorenson Elementary School seemed doomed.

The historic school building in downtown Coeur d'Alene had fallen on tough times. Student enrollment was dwindling. The facility, built in 1957, didn't meet federal regulations for the handicapped. And a financially strapped school district was looking for ways to cut costs.

Closure seemed imminent for Sorenson, says former principal Jim Gray.

"Typical of many urban schools with burgeoning community growth, sprawling commerce and more affordable housing expanding into subdivisions outside of the downtown area, Sorensen's enrollment was simply drying up," says Gray.

"There was the district trying to demonstrate financial efficiency to the taxpayers by closing a school that was old, in need of major upgrades and declining in student enrollment," he adds.

It didn't look good for Sorenson.

Forces come together
It was the cooperation of several parties that resulted in the "Save Sorenson" outcry, Gray says. Parents who wanted to keep the small-school feel in their backyard; downtown businesses hopeful to maintain the energy created by a city core school; and visionaries trying to keep the historic school alive.

After dozens and dozens of community testimonies from concerned parties, school district leaders agreed to formally study the situation and consider ways to keep the classroom doors open.

LCDC steps up
With funding tight and many structural modifications necessary, school district officials turned to the Lake City Development Corporation.

"(Superintendent) Hazel Bauman and myself approached the LCDC to see if there was funding possible to bring Sorenson up to ADA (American Disabilities Act) requirements," Gray says. Lacking ADA compliance, there was no hope for Sorenson.

Unfortunately, the LCDC's district boundaries did not include the school. However, following a recommendation from the LCDC in the summer of 2008, the Coeur d'Alene City Council voted to extend the urban renewal agency's Lake District boundaries to include Sorenson.

The LCDC  provided $450,000 to help upgrade Sorenson for ADA compliance.

"Funds from the LCDC not only helped to restore an aging facility and modernize classrooms, but it became a forward-thinking validation of community efforts to maintain Sorensen’s unique personality," Gray says. The urban renewal agency's contribution did not go unnoticed by the community.

"I want to express a huge thank you to the LCDC," Gray wrote in a letter to the urban renewal agency. "Your vision to be a catalyst for positive change resonates with Sorensen’s work in providing students the finest and most progressive education possible."

A new beginning
LCDC board member Dave Patzer, former chairman of the school district's long-range planning committee, said the financial partnership from the agency was critical to help keep Sorenson open. It also helped to support the idea of magnet schools elsewhere in the city. Magnet schools are public schools with specialized courses or curriculum. The focus at Sorenson is arts and humanities.

"The magnet movement was born at Sorenson and has now blossomed into other schools; it's a concept that has flourished," Patzer says. And as Gray points out, it also fueled energy into the city's core.

jim_gray.png"With the renewed commitment to (Sorenson), it attracts people downtown from other areas of town."
--Former Sorenson Principal Jim Gray

The Sorenson cause also provided a new perspective on conserving historic facilities, Patzer believes. "It's a tremendous statement for the community and the district to go ahead and retain (current) sites and refurbish tradition and heritage."

Thriving magnet school
Back in 2006, struggling Sorenson had only 212 students, a fraction of the district's student population of nearly 10,000. After the school board voted to save the school and ADA compliance was met, student enrollment increased dramatically. Today, the school is at full capacity with 360 students. "Once the school district approved construction and the funding was in place, the school immediately took off," Gray recalls.

Amy Evans, foamy-evans.pngrmer president of the Sorenson Parent Teacher Organization, applauded the school board, community and LCDC for supporting Sorenson.

"Sorensen is Coeur d'Alene's downtown neighborhood school," she says. "It's uniqueness of offering arts and humanities-focused curriculum attracts families from out of the area and other neighborhoods to move downtown. This plays a critical role in the revitalization of our historic neighborhoods."

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Community profile

Editor's note: As part of the LCDC's continuing commitment to maximize public awareness about community issues and the agency, we offer monthly profiles of community leaders. This month, we feature Charles Buck from the University of Idaho, CDA.


Charles Buck
University of Idaho
Associate Vice President
Coeur d'Alene

Charles R. Buck is the University of Idaho’s associate vice president and center executive officer for northern Idaho-Coeur d’Alene. As a molecular biologist, we can be sure that Charles R. Buck knows how to get down to the essential components of whatever project he takes on. Buck has been instrumental in building community relations by helping link the U of I’s regional extension office with the main campus in Moscow. Tasked to direct U of I’s extensive array of programs which are operated in the public interest, Buck’s expertise has been essential in building community relations, enhancing enrollment, and assessing community needs.

Previously, as director of operations at Purdue’s Bindley Bioscience Center in Indiana, Buck supported multi-disciplinary research and managed day-to-day operations of the center that ties academic scientific research expertise to economic development with the private sector. This includes organizing research grant initiatives, managing large scale research projects and directing research services. His distinctive background has helped strengthen and guide how the university’s mission in northern Idaho is carried out. HIs duties also include coordinating operations of the university’s Research Park in Post Falls, in collaboration with the vice president for research and economic development.

Along with the talented team at the Coeur d’Alene Center, Buck has focused on local governments and business groups, and support from colleagues at the main campus to realize a vision for boosting economic activity and providing excellent educational and training opportunities for the region.

A native of Caldwell, Idaho, Buck earned his bachelor of science degree from the College of Idaho and a doctorate in molecular neurobiology from Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences. Prior to the position at Purdue, which he accepted in 2004, he was the chief scientific officer for Oridis Biomed in Graz, Austria; an assistant professor of cell biology and anatomy at the Medical University of South Carolina; and an assistant professor of physiology at Emory University School of Medicine.

Why is urban renewal important?
It’s easy to lose sight of the obvious. Urban areas need to be renewed on a cycle. We must indicate what the impact for the community will be, and stress the importance in recognizing areas that require economic improvement. Urban renewal is one of the few mechanisms that we have to enhance the community economically.

Do you see the higher education campus as an economic driver for the community?
The potential is very high, and we have not yet fully utilized it to the extent that we have available. An increased number of studies show that future jobs will need increasing amounts of education. The Coeur d’Alene’s Higher Education Campus has the ability to efficaciously meet these demands.

Educating the community about urban renewal has been a difficult task because it is such a complicated subject, do you have any advice as an educator to offer an agency such as ours in communicating this topic to the public?
Simplifying the message down to a basic description is a good starting point. Offering examples of before and after, project by project, perhaps using easily understood infographics. People want to know how does it work, and why is it good? In the case of urban renewal it requires a series of conversations because each answer forms additional questions. Try to get across how the mechanism works using dollars in, dollars out, and the way in which the return will be experienced.

What effects do you see technology and education having on our community?
The computer age is now come to maturity and we are seeing informational technology as disrupting in almost every sector. Healthcare and education are the two areas that are driving significant disruption in the way these services have been delivered to the public. These services are shifting away from being driven by institutions, and evolving to where the decision making activity rests with the individual. Up to this point, this is not how it has been done.  We see this with the infusion of online educational opportunities. Further, using healthcare as an example; an individual can now track their own health and wellness using personal apps. The population is now demanding the analytical information, and simply relying on doctors to be only a consulting entity.

How valuable is public space?
Public space is what defines a community, and at some level the way people within that community define themselves. It is highly important for setting the tone of a community and how it looks and feels to those that live it, and those that visit it. How we provide access to our lakes and rivers tells us what we value. Augmenting, and enhancing access to the lake, creates a rallying point for the community and provides justification for why we all live here.