Why is the City pushing the remodel of McEuen Field right now?
The plan unveiled to the public last week is elaborate. It proposes a huge number of new features, many of them extremely expensive, though the City has openly stated they don’t know what anything will cost. The price of the parking garage alone is estimated by some in the construction industry to be near $35 Million, never mind the gigantic half acre fountain (one of 5 or 6 proposed water features right next to the lake), two bridges, the ice skating pond with canopy, several buildings, many new sports courts, a new skate board park and more.
Yet the unemployment rate in our community remains at almost 11%. That is very high. People are hurting. One long time resident on a fixed income, told me his property taxes went up $300 this year and he doesn’t know how he will pay. School District 271 just announced their large new levy which, if approved, will add $68 more dollars to my friend’s tax bill, and NIC, with their Ed. Corridor, will almost certainly pile on as well.
Commercial property taxes have skyrocketed. One downtown business said that sales are off by 40% but their taxes have doubled in the last few years* (see note below), which means fewer jobs, more layoffs and more companies closing their doors.
So, why is the City focusing on McEuen right now? Why not cut back on spending and lower the commercial property rates to help attract new business, and jobs, so people can get back on their feet again? Why propose an expensive project that will hurt the people and businesses who are already struggling? The timing of this McEuen plan seems to defy common sense.
To delve into possible motivations, please consider the following:
- LCDC has only 10 years left on the legal maximum time line for their downtown district. And there’s a strong effort, statewide, to limit urban renewal with new legislation this year. LCDC may be worried that spending caps will be installed. They are currently in line to receive nearly $7 Million**(see below) from their districts this year, and they may want to get their commitments finalized so new laws cannot affect them.
- The CdA City Council came fearfully close to losing incumbents in the ’09 election. Mike Kennedy won by only 2 votes and Deanna Goodlander by just 29 votes. The other half of the city council is up for election this November. Rumor is that Al Hassell might be retiring, and Ron Edinger as well, so there will likely be new faces on the council. Perhaps there will be independent thinkers; no more rubber stamp.
- Charlie Nipp and Steve Meyer***(see below) own the largely undeveloped half block across the street from the current parking lot. Charlie was the chairman of LCDC for more than 10 years and remains on that board. In fact, Charlie bought the land across from McEuen while he was chairman of LCDC and the park was one of their future goals. There’s a good chance Charlie and Steve will build big buildings there and would love a better view than asphalt and cars.
- Front street is notorious for its storm water problems. The piping is old. And small. During heavy storms, water flows in from adjacent streets and literally blows the manhole covers off, causing flooding.
- I bet Charlie and Steve would be thrilled to have the LCDC or city pay for new piping so they won’t have to, for their block, as part of a building permit. It’s expensive!
- The Resort would probably be happy too, if the boat launch was gone. They’ve been wanting that for years, though there’s no obvious reason they need it right now.
- The owners of the two tall condo builidngs next to the park , McEuen Tower and ParkSide Tower, are Dick Stauffer and Monte Miller of Miller-Stauffer Architects. They will benefit, financially, from any improvements to the park, and their team has been paid $125,000 to design the park renovations.
The answer to “Why Now?” could include any or all of the above. You may draw your own conclusions.
I do think it was disingenuous, though, of Parks Director Doug Eastwood to purport, at the unveiling, that the park has deteriorated and become unsafe so it needs this new plan. He said the tennis courts, a play field and a restroom were all removed for these reasons. Come on, Doug. You and your staff do a wonderful job of keeping up all the parks in our city. Did someone tell you to let McEuen slide into disrepair? Why didn’t you fix and resurface the tennis courts that were donated and sponsored by Rotary? Or was the parking garage already on the drawing board for that location?
And why, Doug, have you and Mayor Bloem consistently promised that no major feature of McEuen will ever be removed until there’s already an equal or better replacement somewhere else in the city, yet this plan takes away both the boat launch and the baseball field without such replacements? What’s the hurry? Why not wait until you can fulfill your commitment?
The only way to get answers to these questions, dear readers, is to show up at the meetings. In huge numbers. The next one is Feb. 3rd, at a location still to be determined. You can make comments at www.mceuenpark.com
If you don’t take action and leave this to someone else, you may end up with a park you don’t want and a tax bill you can’t pay.
*this business owner was furious that 80% of his exorbitant taxes are going to LCDC, not the city or county. Remember, please, that LCDC gets its money from the taxpayers in their district. And everyone in CdA and Kootenai County pays more on their taxes to make up the difference.
** interestingly, the new Governor of California, Jerry Brown, just proposed closing ALL that states’ 425 urban renewal agencies because they spend more than $5 Billion per year.
*** Steve Meyer employs Mike Kennedy in a full-time position in one of Steve’s many companies, InterMax Communications. It’s Mike’s main job. It’s how he feeds his family. Will Mike remove himself from any discussions or votes about McEuen field because his full-time boss stands to benefit financially from Mike’s decisions? Let's hope so.