COEUR d’ALENE — As the city adds an urban renewal district and expands two others to defray costs of its 47-acre Atlas waterfront renovations, two additional urban renewal districts may be in the offing.
Council members last week opted to expand the Lake and River urban renewal districts, two historic districts that have pumped money into large sections of Coeur d’Alene for more than 20 years.
Expanding the districts — both of which border the city’s recently purchased Atlas waterfront site west of Riverstone — would allow cash accrued in the districts’ coffers to be used to develop the Atlas site.
Urban renewal is a legislated mechanism for revitalization within Idaho cities. When a new urban renewal district is formed, a geographic revenue allocation area is determined. Within that area, the property taxes that go to the local taxing districts are essentially frozen at their current rates. In urban renewal language that is referred to as “the base.”
As property values increase in the revenue allocation areas, the property owners still pay taxes on the full value of their properties, but everything collected over and above the base is called “the increment.”
That “tax increment” is used to finance urban renewal projects within the district. Riverstone and McEuen Park are among the major urban renewal projects completed in Coeur d’Alene. Taxes under the base go to the city.
Board members of ignite cda, the city’s urban renewal agency, will start planning next week for the agency’s investment in the Atlas riverfront property.
“The board will come up with a game plan on how much it can contribute to the Atlas district and the expansion of the other two districts,” said Tony Berns, executive director of ignite cda.
It will likely approve doling out several million dollars, he said.
The Lake District, which has about $7.7 million in its account, was established in 1997. It encompasses 671 acres and major projects in the district over the past 20 years include the Kroc Center, the development of Riverstone, the Higher Education Campus, Parkside Tower, McEuen Park and the Prairie Trail.
The Lake District expires in 2021. After that, all taxes generated there will once again return to the city.
The River District, a 363-acre district between Interstate 90 and the Spokane River, was formed by the City Council in 2003. Since its inception, it has fueled development projects including Mill River, the U.S. Bank Call Center, Riverstone West, senior housing and the Kootenai Youth Recreation Organization. As of May it had a $3.8 million balance.
By expanding into the Atlas site, the River District — which expires in 2027 and runs along Seltice Way — would provide a financial bump to kickstart development on the site’s west side.
The city also plans to form an Atlas URD that will include the rest of the city’s former Atlas mill site property, and the council is considering formation of two additional URDs.
Although URDs hearken back to the 1960s in Idaho, the Idaho Legislature in 1988 formed a charter authorizing use of URD funds to encourage private development and investment in blighted or underutilized areas. Since then, districts have formed throughout the state to bolster urban areas where traditional financing methods have failed to prevent decay or promote public improvements. Urban renewal funds are meant to grow a long-term tax base.
The East Sherman Avenue corridor is being considered for a 106-acre urban renewal district, although a solid plan has not been brought to the City Council. That could happen in the future, though, said city planner Hilary Anderson.
The city has for almost a decade sought ways to revitalize East Sherman — once the gateway to Coeur d’Alene, Anderson said. A city project to make upgrades to a four-block wide strip of the Sherman corridor between Ninth Street and Interstate 90 has been mulled as a possible URD.
“One of the things we’ve been hearing from the community is that urban renewal is probably our best tool for seeing this area get revitalized,” Anderson said. “Is it the right tool for us?”
The council will be presented with concepts at an August workshop for two potential urban renewal districts, including one at East Sherman and another 281-acre Health District surrounding the Kootenai Health campus along Ironwood Drive and I-90.
Before that happens, however, a study determining if the areas are eligible under state law to become URDs must be completed.
Council members in June delayed paying for eligibility studies for the two areas. Instead, workshops are in the works to further consider the plans.
Once an eligibility study shows that an area is suitable for a URD, the council can decide if it wants to pursue the plan. That would call for feasibility studies and involvement of city planners before City Council members make a final decision. The process takes four to six months.