After more than a month of discussion, surveys, workshops and outreach, an engineering consulting company has created an early, ambitious diagram of what a hypothetical Health Corridor in Coeur d’Alene might look like.
“This is an important night for us,” HDR’s Kaia Nesbitt told the crowd of citizens who met in North Idaho College’s Edminster Student Union Building Wednesday night, “and we really appreciate the input you’re giving this.”
The unofficial sketches still have to factor in Wednesday night’s community input from the last night of ignite cda’s Design Workshop before Boise consulting firm HDR deciphers cost projections, renders additional artistic images and delivers its results to the City Council, which it expects to present in September. But the first look at the designs, in places, presents a striking contrast to the 175-acre landscape surrounding present day Kootenai Health.
“I think this was a success,” HDR’s Public Involvement Coordinator said. “Not only did it make this a community project, but it gives people the opportunity to see how this project evolved, and I think it reassured the community who were really concerned that this would drive people who live there that this looks to enhance their neighborhood, not hurt it.”
The most dramatic change to the area in this design’s hypothetical scenario centers on traffic. Additional north-south streets would carve a grid through the old Shopko property off Ironwood Drive. While Ironwood Drive would still curve around Kootenai Health, the north-south run of nearby Ironwood Place and Ironwood Center Drive would be replaced with a northwest-southeast grid that would ultimately connect via roads and pedestrian walkways back to the hospital.
To accommodate the growing traffic, a new loop would wrap around the northern curve of the area toward a new overpass between U.S. 95 and Northwest Boulevard, an overpass that would cross Interstate 90 and feed into Appleway.
“A new bridge would move up and over,” Doug Bisson of HDR explained to the group. “It would serve as a relief valve, and the loop road would give another option to get to Highway 95 and back onto I-90.”
The center of the grid network west of Kootenai Health would also include a centerpiece green space, and the length of the Corridor would include a dedicated bike path that goes beyond the current bike lane on Ironwood Drive. Both were included to entice doctors, nurses and staff to move to the area, as well as promote a healthy lifestyle for residents.
“Having that bike path or that pedestrian path,” Bisson explained, “gives that sense of connectivity to the neighborhood. Having open space and a dedicated cycle track helps create that connective tissue that every thriving neighborhood needs.”
Tony Berns, executive director of Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal agency ignite cda, said he was pleased with the process and looked forward to the next steps. When asked what surprises or unexpected values he drew from the renderings, Berns looked through all four corners of the diagram before answering.
“I like how it focuses on opportunities from both the east and the west,” he said. “I like how, on the east side, it builds value with development. On the west, it gives Kootenai [Health] room to grow.”
Architects kept drawing right up to the first few minutes of Wednesday’s meeting, incorporating as much input as they could before delivering the community’s results.
“We were finishing right up to the start of the meeting,” HDR urban designer Austin Vachal said. “That’s the biggest challenge with something like this: making sure everything’s as good as it can be, and making sure it’s something you can be proud of.”
Vachal added that, while speed was his biggest challenge, it also represented the least important of the workshop’s goals.
“A big challenge with something like this,” he said, “is to make everything fit and make everything accommodate existing services. But at the same time, you need to make it accessible enough for a developer to decide to swoop in and say, ‘I want to invest in this property.’ It requires a lot of gymnastics to make that happen, and a lot of teamwork. Fortunately, we have a really great team at HDR, and we were working with a passionate community.”
While some Coeur d’Alene residents attending Wednesday’s workshop voiced their approval of the plans, some kept their optimism reserved and cautious.
“I’m in favor of a good hospital,” Jeff Tyler of Coeur d’Alene said, “and I think this definitely accomplishes that. But who’s going to pay for this? I’m concerned that property owners are going to pay for this with new property taxes. Even though this is a City [Urban Renewal District], it will probably increase County taxes…[Furthermore,] a lot of this is, ‘Build it, and they will come.’ That makes me nervous.”
“Either way,” Tyler added, “I feel like it’s a done deal.”
HDR will use Wednesday’s input to prepare its final plan before presenting it to both ignite cda and City Council in August. The City Council will then use the master plan and feasibility study to decide, one way or the other, if the Health Corridor will move forward.