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Can We Make it Happen?

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Downtown Sandpoint Revitalization

March 27, 2002

by Sue Haynes, Sandpoint City Council

Now that the city and Sandpoint Business Association have been given a final presentation on how to proceed with a major downtown revitalization program, the question looms large in everyone’s mind - "What will happen now?" As a member of Sandpoint’s City council, I remember the council discussion on accepting the grant to hire consultant Tom Hudson to prepare a downtown revitalization study. “I don’t want another study to put on a shelf.” 

    “If we go through with this, I want to see results.” 

    “How many studies have already been done on this topic?” 

    The response we got from the city’s grant writer, Stephen Drinkard, was that this consultant had the reputation of getting things done. Everyone involved with other downtown revitalization projects had told him Hudson was the best in the area, and had a proven track record of accomplishments. With those recommendations in mind, the city council, in partnership with the Sandpoint Business Association, approved a $50,000 grant on June 26, 2001. Together, we contracted with the Tom Hudson Company, to develop a plan to help the SBA and the city create a more vibrant downtown.

    The city council approached the ensuing process with excitement and some skepticism, always hopeful that this would be the catalyst for much needed improvements downtown. Parking difficulties, poor sidewalk and lighting, and little landscaping are some of the obvious problems in our downtown core. Not so obvious, but still important, are the problems caused by overworked storm sewers and improper roof drain connections. The need exists to address pedestrian safety, handicapped accessibility and aesthetics, all of which are important components of a thriving downtown.

    Before Hudson’s arrival, the SBA’s design committee, chaired by Tom Runa and later John Corn, with an enormous amount of donated time, had already created visions of a rejuvenated downtown Sandpoint. The Hudson group incorporated most of their work in the report. The finished recommendation clearly spells out what roles each involved party will play in order to achieve results.

    The Hudson group identified the important players necessary to implement changes downtown, and they include an Arts Commission, SBA, individual businesses, Chamber of Commerce, City of Sandpoint, Bonner County EDC, Farmer’s Market, Historical Society, NIC, Schweitzer, Senior Citizens, University of Idaho, service groups and other volunteer groups. He urged local entities to start a process to work more cooperatively, both within each organization, and in conjunction with others, in order to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

    The action plans encourage the city, with other groups, to work on the following items, such as supporting expansion of existing businesses; encourage expansion of Farmer’s Market; encourage outdoor dining and entertainment. The need to address transportation issues was a priority. To improve the parking deficit downtown the plan suggests that the city work with the SBA & downtown business owners to conduct a comprehensive parking analysis & plan, and to improve and assign designated parking areas. One SBA direction was to coordinate downtown business hours for greater accessibility for shoppers. The action plans provide outlines for accomplishing major renovations, with timelines and cost estimates.

    What, if anything, has been accomplished? The city has already moved ahead on many suggestions.  The city council approved a slightly expanded Farmer’s Market contract this month. A grant application to improve a street, sidewalks and other infrastructure for an expanding business with new owners, was approved at this month’s council meeting. We will bring a proposal to have alternating one-way streets on Second and Third streets, providing for more diagonal parking on those streets, to the Public Works Committee on April 3. next month. Our city’s fire chief is working with Constance Buxton, SBA director, to develop a plan to coordinate youth required to perform community service, for downtown beautification projects. The city will also be working in partnership with the SBA, starting conversations with downtown property and business owners, to discuss funding options for a proposed pilot project, or phase 1 of Downtown revitalization. The project would create a new streetscape, and town square (also known as the Heart) for Main Street, from First to Fourth Avenue, with new sidewalks, lighting, street trees and landscaping. Possible funding options include an economic block grant, some city funding for storm sewers, and the establishment of a Local Improvement District. We are also pursuing a grant to expand the moorage dock as far as the Eagles Lodge. We are seeking contributions to install dock furniture and lighting on the existing moorage dock, which starts at the Power House and currently ends at Bridge Street.

    Many issues need to be resolved in order for downtown improvements to become a reality.  The Hudson plan details a multitude of steps that all integral parties need to take, in order to move forward. An informal steering committee has formed to maintain the momentum created by this dynamic action plan, and to coordinate efforts from various groups, in order to make positive changes, and we plan to provide regular progress reports. Improving the economic atmosphere, and inspiring civic pride, a revitalized downtown benefits the entire community.  Working together, we can all make it happen.



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