COEUR d'ALENE - The McEuen Park designers want the city to add previously cut amenities to the park design, saying the scaled-down version has lost the project's original focus: Creating a one-of-a-kind public destination.
The amenities include tennis courts that double as pickle ball courts, basketball courts, a built out pavilion that can seat up to 600 people, and an information center and restroom facility, dubbed the Harbor House, near the Third Street entrance to Tubbs Hill.
They're all amenities that were penned into the original conceptual plan two years ago but had been peeled away as the project was fine-tuned and costs and revenue sources were compared.
Adding them back in, of course, adds to the cost.
It would mean the project could cost between $16.8 million and $17.6 million, so the city would have to secure between $3.4 million and $4.2 million to make it happen.
But without the amenities, Parks Director Doug Eastwood told city officials Thursday during the third and final progress workshop on the project's design, the city might not be seizing the opportunity to build the best park it can.
"That's when I called time out," Eastwood said of the day he noticed playground equipment got slashed from the project for budget reasons. "I said, 'I think we've lost focus here.'"
The workshop Thursday detailed the plan at the 90 percent completion mark. Whichever version of the plan the city council decides on Wednesday should go out to bid in January.
The park designers, Team McEuen, gave similar progress reports at the 30 and 60 percent completion marks. It was after the 60 percent report that Eastwood said he noticed the park was getting too scaled back. Planning was focusing too much on the estimated $14.2 million budget at the time, he said, and items like the playground and splash pad, which should have been the park's focus, started to get chopped away.
"I think we have to get back to what this project was all about at the beginning," he said. "This puts it back and recaptures the vision."
The city will decide Wednesday if it wants to fund the added amenities - and if so, how.
The estimated $3.4 million to $4.3 million shortfall assumes the city will pledge around $1.4 million from future budgets for the project, and that the $1.2 million Local Improvement District with property owners on Front Avenue will go through - neither of which has been decided.
That would leave the city asking the project's chief financial supporter, Lake City Development Corp., to bridge the difference.
The urban renewal agency secured a $16.75 million line of credit to fund the project, and has pledged around $12 million already.
Pitching in an additional $4 million would essentially exhaust its Lake District financing. That means the agency likely wouldn't be able to fund other projects inside the Lake District - the urban renewal district in which McEuen Field sits - before it closes in 2021, LCDC Executive Director Tony Berns said following Thursday's presentation.
"That's something the (LCDC) board will have to consider," he said, adding that it would be unlikely the agency could cover the city or LID shares should those fall through.
So the plan would have to change if those funding sources don't come through.
The project's vision when it was unveiled two years ago was to provide the most outdoor opportunities for the most people year round. Eastwood reminded the crowd Thursday of that pledge, saying the project had come too far to short change it now.
"Five million bucks to make it bitchin'," City Councilman Woody McEvers agreed with Eastwood.
"Bite the bullet and go big," he said.
But the proposed change also focuses the spotlight on a topic that has been a sore point for some people - the project's price tag. More specifically: The dollarestimates that have changed several times as the project blueprint have.
Critics of the park plan have said the park should have been built to a specific dollar amount, the way someone designs a house to fit his or her budget. They've voiced frustration over the years that the park is being constructed from a wish list, which could leave the city looking for money after earlier versions of the park plan have already been completed.
The city had nearly secured all of the $14.2 million for the park project when that was the estimated cost. Now it could be looking to find $4 million.
"Frustration," City Councilman Steve Adams described his reaction after the workshop. "It seems like at every turn this thing has changed."
Part of his frustration is the city's $1.4 million share. It would be comprised of $650,000 of next fiscal year's overlay fund, $470,000 of rainy day funds, and $400,000 in parks capital improvement funds. Parks and overlay funds were tapped as funding sources this year, and using next year's overlay funds would mean city streets wouldn't be overlaid for two years in a row because of the McEuen Field project.
"Another year we sacrifice for this park that wasn't supposed to have a nickel of taxpayer money," Adams said. "I thought we had this funded. I thought we were good to go."
City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said the rainy day funds could be used because it would fund expanded utility options around the project.
The amenities also include an expanded grand plaza near the boat launch, a second elevator in the parking structure and decorated concrete and improved landscaping near the pedestrian intersection at Front Avenue and Fourth Street. The updated cost depends on how many of the features the council wants to include.
The park used to have tennis courts, but they were removed in late 2009 and early 2010 after they wore out. It had basketball courts as well, but Eastwood said both sets would be better quality than what was there.
Thursday's workshop unveiled the latest changes in the park plan, which was a central issue in the unsuccessful recall election effort last summer. Recall supporters at the time pointed to the targeted officials spending too much money on the park without allowing a public vote as a reason for the effort, while the officials pointed to the amenities that were added or subtracted from the plan as having showed it was a plan that involved compromise and community input.
"We're not going over budget," Councilman Mike Kennedy said after the 60 percent completion presentation in October. "That's the bottom line."
But he said Thursday that one of the "political compromises" with the project included moving the boat trailer parking spots closer to the boat launch, which added upward of $500,000 to the plan. The topic will go before the council at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.