Big ideas, small crowds at Health Corridor design workshop

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  • CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Rachel Maly (center) of Coeur d’Alene examines the idea of a hypothetical cross-street just north of Kootenai Health during Monday night’s Health Corridor design workshop. Doug Bisson (left) of HDR displayed one of four general outlines of what the potential corridor could look like. The four outlines are on display at www.ignitecda.org for public input.

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    Doug Bisson of HDR explains the idea behind a general outline of what a proposed Coeur d’Alene Health Corridor could look like, one of four opening up for public input at www.ignitecda.org today at noon. (CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press)

  • CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Rachel Maly (center) of Coeur d’Alene examines the idea of a hypothetical cross-street just north of Kootenai Health during Monday night’s Health Corridor design workshop. Doug Bisson (left) of HDR displayed one of four general outlines of what the potential corridor could look like. The four outlines are on display at www.ignitecda.org for public input.

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    Doug Bisson of HDR explains the idea behind a general outline of what a proposed Coeur d’Alene Health Corridor could look like, one of four opening up for public input at www.ignitecda.org today at noon. (CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press)

Engineers and community neighbors put on their thinking caps at North Idaho College Monday night in the first of three attempts to try to design a possible Health Corridor in Coeur d’Alene.

A few dozen residents appeared for the first in a three-night series of ignite cda workshops, garnering concern from event organizers and residents alike.

“I’m actually a little disappointed there aren’t more people in the audience tonight,” Stephanie Borders, public involvement coordinator of design group HDR said. “Especially with something this important, the more community involvement we can get, the better.”

Some came to give input, some came to learn more about the process, and some came in protest. A handful of residents living within the proposed area occupied about 20 of the first 45 minutes as they voiced their concerns they hadn’t heard of the Health Corridor workshops before.

“I think it’s sad there’s no turnout for this,” Coeur d’Alene resident Chet Gaede said during the input brainstorming session. “People are going to the internet for their news. They’re going [online] to read national news, but they don’t take the time to read their local news. How are you supposed to know what’s going on in your community if you don’t read the local news?”

Ben Weymouth, project manager for T-O Engineers, said the designers invited to shape any proposals the city decides on needs all the help they can get.

“Plans,” he said, “are only going to be as good as the ideas we get. This is a perfect opportunity for all of us right now: We got a design team with no pre-conceived notions, and they’re not local. It’s perfect.”

Engineers presented four different outlines superimposed over aerial photographs of the area around Kootenai Health, all imagining notably different landscape than what exists today. Ideas ran the gambit of possibilities, from a new overpass between U.S. 95 and Northwest Boulevard, to straightening out Ironwood Drive, to connecting medically-focused businesses to the main hospital campus through a series of walking parks.

Likewise, a flavorful variety of ideas came from the audience, as well, from snow removal issues to skywalks to subways. Possibilities like employee housing and trail systems were floated around the room.

“The idea of this is to start very broad,” Doug Bisson, vice president of community planning and urban design for HDR, told the crowd. “Over the next few days, we’ll focus in on the details. The more you can get people involved, the more input we receive, and the more reflective this can be for the community.”

Issues the group addressed included parking, maintaining the community atmosphere and traffic woes. Organizers said developing the area requires a unique challenge: re-development.

“Some hospitals and health care facilities have to work to reach out to their community,” Kaia Nesbitt of HDR encouraged the crowd. “But you have this organization already built into the character of the town ... You have the No. 1 employer in Northern Idaho. That’s a tremendous resource. So how can we build upon that community stability?”

The workshops —coined by ignite cda as “charrettes”— are the long-awaited second steps in a summer-long process to potentially develop a Health Corridor in the 175 acres surrounding Kootenai Health. The initial June 13 envisioning workshop gave residents an opportunity to provide input toward needs the hypothetical Health Corridor would solve. After this week’s trio of design workshops — which focuses on development alternatives as much as primary development — engineers and architects will spent the remainder of the summer finalizing a document to present to the City Council at some point in August. By the end of September, an economic and feasibility study should be completed, telling the city, one way or another, if a new urban renewal district is in their financial future.

Today, artists, architects and engineers will take the feedback given last night and try to whittle down the choices from four to two, incorporating additional opinions from the evening and adjusting them into the selections. Tonight, the second of the three workshops will focus on refining the finer details.

“Today was about testing big-picture ideas,” Nesbitt said after the event. “[We looked at] traffic congestion and how to make this work. Tomorrow, we’ll look at things like street networks and community identity.”

In an effort to get as much input as possible, organizers decided Monday to post the four general outlines on ignite cda’s website, giving people an opportunity to provide more input. Tony Berns, executive director of the urban renewal agency, said he expected the choices to be posted on ignite’s website, www.ignitecda.org, no later than noon today.

“The whole reason we created this process is to help the city envision what a solution could be and should be,” Nesbitt said. “The whole point of this is to help the community create a vision and plan. It’s up to City Council and the people to decide what to do with it.”

The workshops will continue tonight at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the student union building at North Idaho College.

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