McEuen: Public won't vote

City Council will make final decision on proposal

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COEUR d'ALENE - Decades-old federal dollars already spent on McEuen Field won't hamstring any future plans to change the downtown park - or its boat launch, officials said on Wednesday.

Nor will a public vote be held on whether the community should adopt the conceptual plan for the future park.

That vote will be up to the City Council at some point down the line, which is the standard method of approval for city park purchases and public space proposals.

"Everything has been voted on by the public because they voted for the elected officials," said Mayor Sandi Bloem, on the step-by-step public planning to one day redevelop McEuen Field that began more than 10 years ago. "It's always been at the forefront as one of the goals for downtown's revitalization, to improve the public space of McEuen Field."

Meanwhile, stipulations to already-spent federal grant money on McEuen Field won't require the city to scrap any plans on the redesign. Three weeks ago, Team McEuen, the team of engineers and architects who penned the conceptual plan, unveiled its vision for the future park. Last week, it held its first of two public sharing meetings on the design.

Since then, questions popped up wondering whether the final conceptual plan would go to a public vote. Concerns arose too that prior federal funding agreements could prevent any changes.

For the funding part, that's not true.

The city parks department did cash in on around $305,000 in two separate federal Land and Water Conservation funds from 1966 to 1979. Those two separate grants paid for improvements to the park, including basketball courts, drinking fountains, dugouts, softball fields, and site improvements around the parking lot.

Despite federal cash invested, the park can be changed so long as it remains a public park, according to rules in the LWCF act.

"It has to be a public park," said Doug Eastwood, parks director, on the stipulation to the grant money that prohibits using it for commercial enterprises. "You can't convert it for reasons other than outdoor public recreation."

About half of Coeur d'Alene's public parks, including Tubbs Hill, have been developed through the LWCF, which was formed in 1966 and earns revenues from off-shore oil drilling leases.

As for the boat launch removal, the department said it's one of the biggest concerns about the project.

"I just don't think they're taking into consideration the number of boaters," said Jim Alexander, a local boater who worries replacement launches won't be found or otherwise suffice. "I just think it's just a mistake to totally take it away."

The overall plan would have a tough time passing a public vote, Alexander guessed.

"I'd think it would have a hard time going," he said.

Eastwood said the department is trying to locate space on the north shore of the lake for another launch, somewhere between Blackwell Island and Silver Beach.

"That's a problem we need to solve," Eastwood said. "We're looking into some options, we don't have a ready answer, but that's what we need, that dialogue."

Back to McEuen Field, the City Council will get the final vote.

Public input will be accepted every step of the way, and a second presentation is being scheduled this month even before the February public comment meeting.

In December 2004, the City Council did consider an advisory vote pertaining to a $20 million proposed botanical gardens by Coeur d'Alene Resort and Press owner Duane Hagadone.

An advisory measure does not carry any legal weight - it's more like a public opinion poll of sorts - but its outcome could have put the gardens proposal on the general election ballot that year.

Hagadone pulled the proposal at the 11th hour, saying he didn't want to jeopardize other public safety issues on the ballot, according to articles in The Press.

That proposal was different than the McEuen Field proposal because it would have required the city to release portions of Sherman Avenue to a private developer, Bloem said.

For McEuen, the public was instrumental in identifying the park as an important property to include in the urban renewal district before the agency was formed in the late 1990s, Bloem said. It's been instrumental in many of the public meetings on the park since then, and has helped form the vision today, she said.

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