COEUR d'ALENE - The city of Coeur d'Alene will meet with Front Avenue property owners beginning next week to see if they would be willing to help pay for street improvements tied to the McEuen Field project.
How much a potential Local Improvement District would cost property owners and for how long are yet to be hashed out, but the city said Monday it's expecting to meet with affected owners individually to discuss the possibility of putting one on the books.
"We could still do a project," City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said about the city being able to move forward with the park and street project should an LID partnership not work out. "It's just a funding source that's always been planned for that part."
Front Avenue runs along the north side of McEuen Field, and will undergo a major renovation when the park project is constructed next year, including a below-street surface parking garage. LIDs occur when property owners who directly benefit from public improvements agree to help pay a portion, usually stretched out over several years. The city held off improving the downtown street over the years because it wanted to do the street project at the same time it was going to re-do McEuen Field, since revamping the downtown park had been a goal of the city's for years.
"We always felt it should be looked at in conjunction with McEuen," Mayor Sandi Bloem said Monday.
"If there was ever anything that was going to be done on McEuen, we needed to make sure we planned it with Front."
Affected property owners would include several businesses and condo owners along the road to Seventh Street. McEuen Terrace residents wouldn't be affected. Parkside Towers has approximately 54 individual owners, which the city will meet with collectively through its homeowners association.
Not all property owners support the idea.
Some property owners declined to comment or only spoke off the record, but one property owner, John Montandon, said an LID would essentially break a promise the city made to citizens when it adopted the McEuen Field conceptual plan in 2011.
The city pledged then it would not raise property taxes to pay for the McEuen Field project. Charging an LID is the same thing by a different name, Montandon said.
"The taxpayers are going to pay for it, no matter what their little sign says down there about no new property taxes," said Montandon, who owns Sherman Hardware as well as the old Roxy Theater building on Front Avenue. He was referring to signs on McEuen Field that detail future improvements and promise no increased property taxes.
Montandon received publicity this summer when he allowed recall supporters to use his business to solicit signatures for a recall election. That effort, tied directly to the McEuen Field plan, failed. But Montandon said even if he wasn't against the park plan, he would be against paying more. He said his property taxes on Front Avenue have jumped from $4,500 to $11,000 in recent years.
"Even if I was for the park, I wouldn't want the LID," he said.
When the city adopted the McEuen Plan, it also adopted a resolution guiding the city on what could and couldn't be used to pay for the project. The outline doesn't mention LIDs specifically one way or the other, according to city council meeting minutes. Both Gabriel and Bloem said an LID would fit under possible funding mechanisms. It's not a bond, levy or property tax increase, all of which were forbidden, they said, while the other sources were just examples of what could be used.
"It was not excluded," Gabriel said of an LID option, adding, "We're not looking for them to pay 100 percent of the improvements."
Front Avenue was also identified as the city's "third street" in its downtown three-street plan when it adopted its Main Street Theory following a public space study years ago.
Part of that plan, in a nutshell, said the city should design its downtown on the three major streets: Front, Sherman and Lakeside. Improvements on the latter two having been partially paid for by an LID.
If an LID is worked out, the City Council would have to adopt it following a public hearing.
Gabriel said the city wants to meet with property owners individually so they can talk about ingress, egress and other individual effects on each property in relation with the project.
Meanwhile, the McEuen Field park designers, Team McEuen, will present their 90 percent progress report on the project at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 27, at Parkside Tower.
Project bids are expected to go out in January.