Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ketchum development consultant starts talks about reviving downtown

Express Staff Writer

Longtime residents of Ketchum get around town using well-known landmarks, and they sometimes give directions by referring to businesses that closed long ago.

Neither option is much help to newcomers and visitors—two contributors to the local economy whose comfort with and enjoyment of the city needs to be realized if vitality is to be injected back into the city's downtown, according to a community-based economic development specialist.

Tom Hudson, the Moscow-based consultant hired by the city, led a discussion with members of the City Council and the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau downtown task force Tuesday, Oct. 25.

"We're not starting from scratch," Hudson said. "We're talking about taking the comprehensive plan and moving it into a more tangible vision of the future ... with more specificity ... and implementation. My role is in laying the groundwork, the framework, for moving this forward."

The city of Ketchum is in the beginning weeks of a 182-day moratorium on single-family home applications and all-residential building applications for the city's core. During that time, city leaders hope to formulate a downtown master plan.

"For years people have been talking about a pedestrian-friendly downtown," Hudson said. "But what does that mean?" He said he's seen towns implement a generic "pedestrian-friendly" atmosphere only to have it fail due to poor planning.

"Beautification has a lot of subtleties to it," he said. "Who are your markets and what is friendly to them?"

He said Ketchum's street signs are practically useless for visitors. He described businesses' incongruent hours of operation as "at least somewhat helter-skelter."

"It's very confusing to (outsiders)," he said.

Hudson proposed gathering "mixed scanning" data such as zip codes and license plate numbers to help figure out who's coming into Ketchum and when and even why.

"How do we get economic development if we don't have the basic information?" he queried.

The city will begin to gather information on local businesses by having city staff conduct a foot survey of what enterprises are in operation.

Hudson reiterated the need for public input so residents feel comfortable with the direction in which their town is going.

"We need to have consistency in planning so it does not inappropriately impact the qualities of life we feel are necessary, basic, fundamental parts of who we are," he said.

Hudson meets today with the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission and City Council, and he will lead a town meeting at the nexStage Theater in Ketchum Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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