Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Ketchum debates Giacobbi parcel uses

City officials offer different views on how to develop public land

Express Staff Writer

Should it be a park or a parking lot? Might it be the site of a new city hall or a new tourist information center?

Those were some of the questions debated Monday, Nov. 1, as the Ketchum City Council took the first step in trying to determine the best uses for a new piece of city property immediately south of Giacobbi Square shopping center.

In a discussion prompted by Mayor Ed Simon, council members for the first time offered their views on what should become of the parcel, which is being acquired in a land trade with Wells Fargo Bank.

One said the city should proceed slowly. Another said it should act swiftly. And, before it was over, all seemed persuaded that for the cash-poor city to pursue any projects a considerable amount of planning needs to be done.

At issue is the future of one of the most visible parcels of property in downtown Ketchum. The piece of land?which sits at the corner of Fourth Street and East Avenue?is being traded to Wells Fargo for the city-owned parcel at the corner of Fourth and Main streets.

The city and the bank are scheduled to close the land-trade deal before the end of the month.

Councilman Baird Gourlay said the city should look at numerous options before deciding what to do with the parcel, which is currently under lease as a parking lot for Giacobbi Square.

Gourlay said the city needs to determine where it can erect a new city hall and a new visitor center for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

The longtime Chamber visitor center on the city?s Fourth and Main parcel was demolished this week at the request of Wells Fargo, which is planning to build a new bank on the high-profile site. The visitor center has been temporarily relocated to an office in the Copper Ridge building on Washington Avenue. (See related photos on pages B1 and B7.)

Gourlay said he tentatively envisions using the parcel for a new city building that could house some administrative offices and a new public meeting chambers. At the same time, he said, part of the parcel could be maintained as open space.

?Frankly, I?m not sure what needs to go there,? he said.

Gourlay said the city might need to develop a master plan for the new parcel and the nearby existing City Hall location at 480 East Ave.

However, Gourlay noted, because the city has only a negligible amount of money held aside for capital improvement projects, the city would likely have to gain voter approval for a bond issue if it were to redevelop either site.

?I?m assuming we?re going to have to bond, no matter what we decide to do,? he said.

Council President Randy Hall said he believes the city should proceed cautiously. Nonetheless, Hall said he believes the city needs to develop public restrooms downtown and should ?entertain? the needs of the Chamber.

Councilwoman Terry Tracy, who voted against the land trade, said she believes the city should swiftly develop a master plan for both of its East Avenue properties.

?I think we have to start moving somewhere,? she said.

Tracy said she maintains the land trade was a ?terrible mistake? but now wants to make the most of the deal.

The Police Department, Tracy said, has the greatest need for a new headquarters.

?It?s just pathetic that they?re working out of a facility like that,? she said.

Councilwoman Christina Potters said she envisions the city?s new parcel as a ?gathering place? where citizens can ?come together.?

Simon has said he foresees developing the site as a public park with a new visitor center and an underground parking garage.

The mayor stressed that he intends to hold numerous public hearings on the matter before asking the council to make a final decision.

Ron LeBlanc, city administrator, said the council should review the city?s draft capital-improvement plan and then decide how it intends to fund any new public projects.

?It comes back to priorities and money,? LeBlanc said.

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