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The Packer Centre

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The Packer Centre

Will athletic center get off the ice this time around?

In the summer of 1999, local vet Robert Pierce, with friends and ice hockey teammates Clint Eberley and George Stonekes decided to take their passion for the game of sticks and mold it into a non-profit organization looking to build a local , indoor ice rink. The Sandpoint Centre Corp was the base for what’s now become the Packer Centre, a 225,000 sq ft community center envisioned to include that indoor ice rink, volleyball and basketball courts, swimming pools and public meeting rooms, plus 125,000 sq ft of commercial and residential space, and a 90,000 sq ft parking garage which will incorporate in its design the preservation of the old Co-Op grain elevator and the town’s former Catholic Church.

“In 2005 a petition was circulated and over 4,800 signatures were gathered in support of a Bonner County Community Center which included an ice skating arena,” wrote Bruce Pederson, the prime mover behind the Packer Centre and Pierce’s brother-in-law, on the Packer Centre website. “Our group used this strong foundation of public support and placed legislation before the voters to ask if there was a willingness to fund this facility with tax money. Despite the tremendous excitement for the idea, the voters’ answer was clear: Find another way. Now we have another way.”

That “other way” involves no tax dollars but does require a zoning change in Sandpoint for the area, encompassed by Boyer, Church and Oak streets and going toward Fifth Ave, from its current designation as residential B to residential C. The group will go before the city council on June 17 to make this request and others. They do so with the support of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, representing 550 area businesses.

“The project fits in nicely with the recently adopted comprehensive plan that will promote a vibrant and active downtown, making Sandpoint a great place to work, live and visit,” said Amy Little, the Chamber’s Executive Director.

Not that everyone supports the proposal—Pederson and Pierce say there are people who live in the area who would rather not see this happen. “Part of the dilemma (for them),” he said, “is they’re trying to preserve something that the comp plan says has to change. The comp plan says that area should be professional office space—we’re trying to comply with the comp plan and move forward into a future where downtown Sandpoint can become a thriving, exciting community.”

“My first passion is to build this in Sandpoint,” said Pierce. “Right now, businesses are closing and Sandpoint is losing its heart, and I want it to  remain the heart of this community.”

Pierce believes support for the project is growing—”the excitement it generates is phenomenal”—and that Sandpoint is finally ready to take a step like this. “Back in the 1970s the city put out a bunch of surveys and one of the things the people said they wanted was an ice rink. When we sought voter support to create a center in 2005 we collected almost 5,000 signatures in support for the formation of a recreation district, even though it failed to generate the votes in Sandpoint to make it happen. But of those voters, there was overwhelming support from parents with children. And the rest of the voters—they didn’t seem to object to a center as much as they objected to funding one with tax dollars. So that’s why we’ve come up with a different plan. Bruce is really brilliant, you know—he figured out how to make this work.”

Funding for the center will come from three separate sources—the sale and lease of residential and commercial spaces, donations, and grant dollars.

“The project qualifies for several types of grant dollars,” explained Pederson. “We’ll be preserving two historic structures, plus participating in urban renewal. These grants are available and we do qualify,” he said.

In addition to outright property sales, the development will also offer properties in a rental pool, similar to timeshares but upgraded to fit a new century. Pederson says even with the national downturn in the real estate market, he has no concerns about finding buyers. “This is a unique product,” he said. “There’s simply nothing else out there like it.” And while the group says it’s premature to set a price range, Pierce says, “We’re not talking high end here.”

And with a 501c3 component to the organization, like-minded individuals and businesses can donate to a project that Pederson says goes beyond the “typical sports complex” with mentorship programs and other youth-oriented services.

As for the name, Pederson and Pierce both wanted to honor their friend Jaime Packer, who was killed in a car accident four years ago. “Jaime was one of the founding people in the initial push for a community center,” said Pederson. “He lived and breathed hockey—you should have seen it. Jamie was from Canada and he recognized that smaller towns than us have even bigger complexes then what we were proposing. He saw no reason why we couldn’t do that here.”

Step one, however, is the zoning change request to city council; Pierce says “the message to people is to show up on June 17. We have to quit sticking our heads in the sand about the future, and go out and create what we want. This area is changing whether we want change or not, and if we don’t manage it, we’ll get sprawl, like Hayden. But a project like this will take us in a direction we need to go. This type of mixed-use project encourages fewer cars, creates less of an impact for living space, and is better for our environment. What we need now is people who agree with doing projects like this to come to the meeting on the 17th and let the council know how they feel so we can move forward.”

Information on the Packer Centre is available on their website, and includes several renderings of the proposal donated by yet more supporters—Sean Fitzpatrick and designer David Koel for CTA architects and engineers—who has made over 30,000 drawings so far.

In addition, people are invited to email [email protected]

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, sports, Packer Centre, Jamie Packer, development, Bruce Pederson, Amy Little, Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, Rob Pierce, ice skating

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