NEWSREVIEW.pngIssue 25/April 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.


Joining forces for jobs
A Magic Valley success storyMagic-Valley-ID.png

About a dozen years ago, community leaders and business advocates in Idaho’s Magic Valley were frustrated.

On the economic front, times were tough. Several cities in the area were competing against each other to lure prospective businesses to their respective turfs. Their goals were mutual—attract better-paying jobs to build a healthier economy.

But their strategies were divided.

Regional tug-of-wars to recruit business was not doing anybody any good; the momentum to strengthen the economy was being diluted by self-centered philosophies. So local officials in the multi-county region agreed to regroup to see what they were doing wrong. And how it could be fixed.

That’s where this story begins. Dr. Jerry Beck, an economic activist and retired president of the College of Southern Idaho, was recently invited to Coeur d’Alene by the Lake City Development Corporation to explain a highly successful economic development strategy that has paid off in the Magic Valley.

"It just seemed like the way we were doing business was not working as well as it had in previous years," Beck told LCDC board members.

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“Idaho doesn't have the incentives that a lot of our sister states have. That’s what makes agencies like the LCDC such an important part of energizing the local economic climate. It starts with offering incentives that attract good-paying jobs.”
--Dr. Jerry Beck


 

Cooperative change
In this south-central Idaho region, local officials put their heads together and decided something needed to be done. So they hired a consultant to look at their economy and determine a strategy for success. Step One: Work cooperatively.

What their consultant told them was simple: Stop resisting the concept of partnerships and work toward being a single cohesive region to nurture economic development. Help each other—capitalize on individual strengths, and use those strengths to promote the entire region.

And thus, the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization (SIEDO) was born.

SIEDO is a joint venture of public/private sectors formed to help diversify and strengthen the local economy by retaining and attracting business through a unified effort.

The process began with SIEDO putting together small “Ready Teams” for each community. These teams were trained in how to deal with prospective employers, and how to present attractive offers to lure businesses.

What SIEDO members did, Beck said, was decide to support each other during a three-year ‘trial’ agreement. “We did come together and we did sign an agreement … with a focus on helping each other out, where possible, for the economic benefit of the region,” he said.

SIEDO focused on “being a united region, not stand-alone communities; to help each other out where possible for a regional benefit,” Beck said.

Benefits of political clout
SIEDO also successfully rallied state lawmakers to support their cause. The organization attracted Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, an influential legislator, to further its economic efforts.

If you have municipalities and other stakeholders working together to improve a region’s economic standing, Beck explained, it is a powerful scenario to help engage other lawmakers to support the cause. And it can change the course of action for economic development.

Seven years ago, Beck told the LCDC commissioners, Utah looked at how much it was spending on economic development agencies and decided it was too much.

Officials decided to eliminate those agencies and banked the money into a newly formed private organization, Business Plus, to lure jobs into the state by raising funds that can be used to incentivize business to locate in the region.

He pointed out the time a couple of years ago when Utah put $2.5 million on the table to try and attract a huge employer, Dell Computers, away from Idaho.

Beck said Idaho countered with an offer to train the company's workforce, but the company discovered it could train its own workforce for $500,000 and still have $2 million in the bank under the Utah offer. Advantage Utah.

Finally, when SIEDO was recruiting Dell, the prospective company stated it needed $500,000 for a new generator. Business Plus stepped up to foot the bill. It sealed the deal.

"That's pretty powerful," Beck said.

"Idaho doesn't have the incentives that a lot of our sister states have," Beck said. And local competition was growing.

"Those are the things that we have to recognize," he said. "And we have to use what we do have the best that we possibly can."

Urban renewal as a tool
“Urban renewal needs to be used anytime you can make something happen that would not have happened otherwise,” Beck said.

Some may not agree, Beck added, “but urban renewal has proven itself across the state as an invaluable economic tool to stimulate the economy.”


New energy for Midtown
Commercial/housing proposal moves forward

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Midtown stakeholders have talked. And developers have listened.

A multi-million dollar commercial/workforce housing mixed-use project proposed for Midtown was recently re-energized following a meeting this month between project officials and those who live in the eclectic community.

“There was enough positive energy at the meeting that we are comfortable moving forward,” said Lake City Development Corporation Commissioner Deanna Goodlander, a member of the urban renewal agency’s Housing Committee. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Partnership with the LCDC is important, the developer said, because urban renewal support greatly enhances the likelihood of securing federal tax credits that make the development a more viable project financially.

The LCDC has offered support of the project through property owned by the agency and financing public improvements.
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“The LCDC’s housing committee has worked really hard to see what the (Midtown) community has to say about the proposal. We listened to the neighbors; changes were made … and I still think
it’s a doable project.”
--LCDC Commissioner Deanna Goodlander




Midtown residents opposed the original plan, saying its size did not fit in with the character of the neighborhood.

The latest proposal calls for a $7.1 million mixed use, three-story building that would include 38 units on the top two floors and 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the street level. That’s considerably less than the initial plan that called for a four-story development with 50-plus units and about 10,000 square feet of commercial space.

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer, who attended the recent update meeting on the Midtown plan, said he believes the changes are a step in the right direction.

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“I look forward to working with the Midtown residents to develop the neighborhood to improve economic activity and quality of life in the area.” --Coeur d’Alene Mayor Widmyer



The proposal was brought forward a few years ago by The Housing Company (THC), a Boise-based non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to preserve Idaho’s existing affordable housing and, facilitate development of new affordable housing in under-served areas of the state.

Douglas Peterson, THC’s executive director, said the next funding round for tax credit consideration, which his organization is seeking to move forward, is in September.

Peterson emphasized that the residential units would not be subsidized housing. “This is workforce housing for a wide range of people who work in many fields—from the food industry to health care,” he said. “The only people living here who do not work would be retired.”

If the federal tax credit allocation is granted, it would still be another five to six months before ground was broken on the project because detailed plans would need to be created.

“Basically what we have now is conceptual plans, not construction plans,” Peterson said.  He estimated construction could begin as early as next spring if there are no delays.
 
Architect Dick Stauffer, who designed the proposed multi-use project, estimated if the proposal moves forward and THC receives the tax credits it is seeking, occupancy would be available around the spring of 2016.

Rents are expected to be between $300 and $600 per month, depending on the occupant’s income. As designed, housing would include 14 studio units each with 450 square feet; 17 one-bedroom units at 650 square feet; and seven two-bedroom units each with 850 square feet, Stauffer said.


Total Transformation
McEuen Park to open in May
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Finally. Spring has arrived and mostly sunny skies and warmer temperatures so far in April have helped to accelerate work on the McEuen Park reconstruction project.

In recent weeks, crews have poured large sections of concrete throughout the park and along the Front Avenue Promenade, graded paths for trails, put the finishing exterior touches on structures and planted plenty of vegetation.

“The changes just in the past month are amazing … but not unexpected,” said Phil Boyd, president of Welch Comer Engineers. “It’s all coming together quickly at this point and we look forward to a May opening for sections of the park on the east end.”

Concrete work is in full swing along the south side of Front Avenue adjacent to McEuen Park on what will soon become a pedestrian-friendly promenade with trees, landscaping, and a mix of concrete and brick pavers. The pedestrian corridor will continue east to Seventh Street and westward in front of The Coeur d’Alene Resort leading to City Park.

Meanwhile, the Coeur d’Alene Press is working on a special section dedicated to the McEuen Park reconstruction. It will be published later this month and will include numerous photos and articles detailing the progress and highlighting the park amenities.


The world-class park will begin to open in phases on May 2. This means visitors can walk through most of the 20-acre park and enjoy the vast amenities.


An all-day dedication will be held during the city’s Parks Day Saturday, July 12. Festivities will begin with a pancake feed and include plenty of entertainment, activities, a dedication ceremony and live music in the evening.

Park upgrades include a natural amphitheater, a new pavilion, donor wall, a grand plaza and waterfront promenade, scenic paved trails, new public art, a re-designed Veteran’s Memorial, an amazing interactive playground for kids of all ages, a new dog park, more user-friendly and efficient public parking, a new Front Avenue promenade with community gathering areas and an interactive splash pad with more than a dozen colorful water features.

"What we’re seeing is the transformation of a downtown park that will allow for much greater use for the community,” said acting Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Bill Greenwood. “Reconstruction of McEuen Park will change the character of our downtown in such an awesome and positive way."

Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association Manager Terry Cooper said McEuen Park will be a strong draw to the city center.

“The parking facility and addition of green space, along with the great children’s playground, splash pad, and all the other additions, will make it a great place for family outings for young families and grandparents to come and have a good time,” Cooper said.

Added Greenwood, “I can’t wait to jump into the splash pad!”

Newsletter Archives

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McEuen Park Project

McEuen Park WebCam


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 civic activist John Bruning.

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John Bruning:
Community Leader

You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who has volunteered more time to the community than John Bruning. His impressive civic resume includes 25 years on the city of Coeur d’Alene’s Planning Commission (including 20 years as chairman). He also serves on the city’s bike and pedestrian committee, arts commission and natural open spaces commission.

At 69, Bruning is still an avid bicyclist and currently serves as president of the North Idaho Trail Foundation. He also served a term on the City Council from 2008-12. As if all that weren’t enough, the retired U.S. Forest Service employee serves on the housing board for St. Vincent DePaul.

Why is community activism so important to you?
I don’t believe we can expect our government officials to do everything for us, nor should we desire that. I think it is up to private citizens to be actively involved in our communities as volunteers. And we should not be just “takers” from our communities. We should give back by serving as volunteers in whatever capacity we feel comfortable.

What do you envision for the future of public trails in the area?
I have a vision for Centennial Trail expansion in several directions from Coeur d'Alene. Trail connectivity is at the top of the list for the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation. To the north we need to rebuild the trail adjacent to U.S. Highway 95 and continue the trail’s expansion to eventually reach Sandpoint. To the south I would like to build the trail to Plummer to connect with the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. The Foundation and the city’s Bike-Ped Committee are always working with Coeur d'Alene officials to connect neighborhood trails to the North Idaho Centennial Trail and to adjacent neighborhood trails.

How will the reconstruction of McEuen Park impact the community?
I don't think anyone is sure how great the impact will eventually be; but I can't help but believe the neighborhoods surrounding the new park will become much more desirable for living and will see dramatic increases in property values and existing businesses that are near the park will prosper and new businesses will appear. I think there will be concerts and other community events at the park that will bring in thousands of tourists and visitors who will contribute to the overall economy of the city. The impact will be all positive. On a personal note my grandchildren are always asking me “when is the new park going to open?” Soon!

What is your proudest civic accomplishment?
McEuen Park. Those of us who were on the City Council at the time the plans for the park were approved took a lot of criticism from a rather small group of people. But the completed park will be worth all the heat we took when it opens and people will see how beautiful it is and what an asset it will be to the city. Playing even a small part in adding 25 acres of beautiful parkland to an already beautiful city would have to be an accomplishment anyone would be proud of.

What keeps you energized to volunteer after all these years?
I guess I just see things that need to be done. I have been involved in St. Vincent de Paul Society of North Idaho since 1982 and served as President of the Board of Directors for 3 years, and have been chair of the St. Vincent Housing board for many years. The needs are so great for our low income residents and the homeless in our area. When a person sees needs in a community, he or she gets involved and I think that is especially true of our community.