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On the Road to Revitalization

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Amongst the many challenges to economic development is that of maintaining community focus. Generally, the topic is associated with actions and achievements so arduously slow or painfully expensive that people get discouraged. Or, at the seemingly opposite end of the response spectrum, people are too busy working to create investment to notice anyone else is similarly focused.

 The Tom Hudson Group, a consulting firm from Moscow, Idaho, finished their analysis of downtown Sandpoint with a flourish. The final deliverable, a CD-ROM, is literally packed with intelligent ideas, well documented graphics to support their suggestions and conclusions, and a positive message that suggests there is more than just light at the end of the revitalization tunnel. To obtain this information, you need only contact Constance Buxton, Executive Director of the Sandpoint Business Association (SBA). Her new office is on the corner of Main and Second, known locally as the CEDU Family of Services building, or for you Sandpoint historic buffs, the old City Hall. The information can also be accessed at Sandpointonline.com  As usual, in a systematic and steadfast manner, the SBA has continued to forge a cooperative and positive partnership between downtown business owners and the City Council, and now the SBA has the necessary step-by-step guideline to begin implementing some of the recommended improvements. This positive perspective is not to shun acknowledgement of the cantankerous minority, but then it wouldn’t be Sandpoint if we were sitting around harmoniously sipping mimosas while admiring each others’ intrinsic qualities.

 The Revitalization Plan is divided into six elements. They cover in depth the various aspects of the strategic plan. That plan is predicated on the idea that all downtowns “are complicated systems that provide some degree of ‘Center’ in each of the following activities: social, cultural, civic, religious, commercial and residential.” To craft a balance that makes a strong downtown, there must be a thorough understanding of community values and market dynamics, so that the necessities of both can be integrated. 

 Hudson’s recommendations are based on striving for smaller continuous successes, with respect to limited resources, but most importantly, the emphasis throughout all the documentation is on community involvement and active partnerships. As we develop alliances within our community, we will begin to see the power inherent in collaboration.

There are four fundamental goals identified in the Revitalization System recommended by the Hudson Group. Those four goals are:

(1) Strategic Market Orientation. This includes well defined markets; ensuring the physical aspects of the downtown are set to serve these markets well; and well organized communication to target markets or audiences.

(2) Early Actions that build Momentum. This includes practical, reasonable and visible steps, as well as a variety of “base” hits. The concept is start smaller and show measurable success, versus shooting for a home run or large scale implementation.

(3) Strengthened Teamwork. This step requires broad participation from organizations and citizens in the community, clear roles for each participating organization, and access to resources.

(4) Stronger Sense of Community. This concept is based on getting the community to take “ownership” of the downtown, and developing or enhancing downtown draws for both locals and visitors. The single most important element stressed is teamwork. Having defined the goals, the Hudson Group continues to delve into the next layer of detail with four area of "defining principals." The concept is to stake out what is critical to supporting your goals, and additionally develop enough structure to the belief system, so the final project recommendations fit into a context that is logical, achievable and desirable. The four principals are: 

 (1) Design. The design ideas recommended are predicated on the notion that downtown Sandpoint needs to be much more of a pedestrian priority. No matter where you want to move the traffic, everyone agrees that it should not be on First Avenue. The design concepts suggested emphasize improvements that are user friendly – lighting upgrades, sidewalk improvements, signage and street furniture. The objective is to make people want to gather downtown and to facilitate that happening. 

 (2) Business Development. The right mix of businesses downtown is required to make it a place we desire to go. Additionally, although often accused or assumed to be a town focused principally on tourism, the economic figures show that the emphasis needs to be on local purchasing. Local, however, needs to be redefined as "regional," (within 100 miles) if we want to maximize the dollars economically. It has been cleared documented that a downtown cannot just be defined by retail – the best approach is a mix of services bringing people to town for a wide variety of reasons. This idea does not preclude our downtown from continuing to make Sandpoint an attractive place for family, friends or tourists from outside the area. 

(3) Promotion/Marketing. Currently many businesses spend thousands of dollars, if measured collectively, to send messages that are not necessarily focused, defined or powerful. The concept is to develop a marketing message that makes the whole community comfortable but remains effective and not diluted. 

(4) Organization. It is fundamental to success that public-private partnerships be developed. Citizen participation is emphasized in order to make it a truly community based effort. Ideally, if government and businesses are working together cooperatively, citizens will be excited to be involved and influencing the improvement of their environment.

The next element to the set of recommendations is presented as strategies. Strategies are the next level of detail, complementing the four defining principals. In the area of Design, the first strategy is focused on the idea of “Bring Back Main Street.” Main Street played a more significant role in Sandpoint’s history because it served as a core artery. By focusing on improvements on Main street, the idea is to enhance the beauty and uniqueness of Farmin Park, and make the Sandpoint City Parking Lot (directly on Main Street) a more versatile gathering location. An RFP was released by the City. and the engineering team that won the work was Comer and Welsh of Coeur d’Alene, with Tom Runa as the lead designer landscape architect. Currently the City Council is preparing to have a variety of design options, based on varying budgetary amounts, presented so that a starting point can be established. Remember that the City purchased the small parking lot adjacent to the incredibly ugly "bull pit," which is a parking anomaly and driving obstacle at best.

The ideas for improvement are spectacular, so as citizens we need to follow this dialogue and ensure the City Council gets adequate feedback on what makes sense to implement. In the area of Business Development, a variety of sources of funding have been identified, and the SBA is working hard to develop programs that will give business owners access to funds for facade upgrades. Additionally, a program has been initiated called "Sandpoint Summer Nights." This is a collective effort by many downtown businesses to commit to longer hours in the summer to accommodate evening shopping. Since many people complain they can’t get to stores that close at 5 p.m., when individuals are just getting off work, we can send a community message of thanks back by frequenting these stores and acknowledging these efforts.

There are many more strategic efforts going on in the areas of promotion/marketing and organization. See SBA’s ad for a glimpse at their new logo, designed by local Doug Jones. The most important thing to remember is not the goals, the principals or the strategies. The most important thing to remember is that the SBA and the community is...you! We tend to associate the names of organizations with a mythical concept of hundreds of paid staff running around like some Washington D.C. consulting firm, or the office of some governmental executive with paid staff. The SBA is staffed by one person, and every other person, for which they are many, but many more are needed, are all volunteers. They are you – homeowner, business owner, business (we can’t live without you) staff person, artist, window washer, banker, realtor, parent, retiree. The community is us – all of us. And downtown is not some place we never go. It is our downtown, our town, in which we are molding our dreams, our children, our lives. Do not let someone else make your town – DIY. That stands for Do It Yourself, but don’t do it alone. Do it with the rest of us. For the specific way that you can help just a little or a lot, please call Constance Buxton at 255-1876 or email her at dsba(at)coldreams.com

 

 

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Carol Curtis

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Sandpoint, revitalization, economic development, Hudson Group, DSBA

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