The pounding of hammers and buzz of power saws greet visitors outside the Coeur d’Alene library.
Across the way, workers of Ginno Construction are framing the future, seven-story Seven27 Luxury Condos. The condominiums will sell out for $675,000 to $1,150,000 when complete.
Nearby, the 150 units of Lake Apartments are attracting renters, with leases ranging from $1,043 for a basic studio apartment to $2,339 for two-bedroom apartments.
North of the library, 15-story McEuen Terrace and 20-story Parkside Condos are packed with residents.
Why am I telling this?
The naysayers, who fight every major project associated with urban renewal money in Coeur d’Alene, objected to the downtown library project, too.
In winter 2005, backers reluctantly trimmed a library proposal from three stories to two ahead of a $3 million bond vote. They did so to increase the chances of meeting the two-third supermajority for passage. Opponents didn’t like the downtown location or the bond’s “tax burden” — only $1.29 per month for the average home of the time.
It was a good move by promoters. On Feb. 1, 2005, the $3 million library bond barely passed, attracting 68.2 percent of the vote.
Six years later, now state Sen. Mary Souza, an unabashed critic of all things urban renewal, was still complaining about the visionary purchase of property for the library parking lot. In a newsletter, she claimed that the Library Foundation was duped into paying $1 million for the crucial, one-acre lot. Citing unnamed sources, she groused at the time that the property wasn’t worth more than $300,000.
Today, of course, the parking lot is a key component of the wildly popular library, providing easy access.
Can you imagine what Coeur d’Alene would be like had Souza and others like her succeeded in their various scorched-earth attempts to stop various quality projects in Coeur d’Alene? There would be no Kroc Center. No Riverstone. No Education Corridor. No McEuen Field overhaul.
In 2012, Souza and the late Kathy Sims led a recall effort against then mayor Sandi Bloem and three council members, demanding a public vote on the proposed overhaul of McEuen Field. Bloem often cast the tie-breaker in 4-3 votes to push ahead with the McEuen work sans public vote. A public vote sounds noble. But Bloem’s foes had so poisoned public sentiment that a successful bond vote would have been impossible. Some naysayers infamously said: We’re spending millions to make a park into a park.
The McEuen Park of today is superior in every way to its former self, an under-used green space dedicated largely to seasonal softball and American Legion baseball. The large swath of cement parking lot that had covered valuable waterfront property has been tucked out of sight into underground parking along Front Avenue. A large memorial plaza honors military veterans. Public art delights residents and visitors alike. And a water feature honoring Greg Moore, the Coeur d’Alene police sergeant who was killed in the line of duty, provides a setting for reflection.
The transformed waterfront, fueled in part by urban renewal, has attracted multi-millions of dollars in investment in downtown Coeur d’Alene. People want to live there. People want to visit there. People want to invest there.
Former mayor Sandi Bloem spent the last of her political capital pushing McEuen Park through to completion. She was the guiding light behind the successful effort to land the Kroc Center, which included a $70 million grant for construction and endowment. She fought for the current location of the library to attract more visitors downtown. The McEuen Park overhaul was her piece de resistance.
The emotionally draining recall effort undoubtedly played a role in Bloem’s decision not to seek a fourth term. The naysayers had accomplished their goal of pushing her out of office. Fortunately, we have another mayor in Steve Widmyer who shares Bloem’s vision to use urban renewal to make this fantastic place where we live that much better.
This community is susceptible to rabble rousers who see corruption and conspiracy everywhere. And fight progress, spawned by urban renewal, at every turn. The success of so many projects has proven them wrong again and again. They don’t have it in them to admit they’re wrong. Instead, they count on voters having short memories, and move on to the next good project to condemn.
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D.F. Oliveria, of Coeur d’Alene, is a former columnist and blogger for The Spokesman-Review.