Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Consultant urges Ketchum to seize identity for future

Residents gather to envision ways to enhance downtown

Express Staff Writer

A view looking north on East Avenue from Sun Valley Road in Ketchum shows a downtown with opportunities for economic revitalization and aesthetic improvements. A rendering provided by The Hudson Company and RBF Consulting's Urban Design Studio reveals a peek into the possible. The city of Ketchum is creating the framework for a downtown master plan. Consultant Tom Hudson, principal of Moscow-based The Hudson Company, has been making frequent visits to the Wood River Valley to help the city and its citizenry come up with achievable goals for the future. Photo by Chris Pilaro

Stand for a moment on the corner of East Avenue and Sun Valley Road in Ketchum. Look north. What do you see?

Parked cars form an island in a wide street and line its edges. A few trees catch your eye, but an empty lot on the left soon snatches your attention.

Asphalt reigns.

You yawn.

Imagine for a moment more people and fewer cars. Superimpose on the sidewalks additional greenery, wrought-iron benches and maybe a fountain or an ice rink.

Mini-retail spaces, quaint and inviting, dot the promenade and complement established businesses.

A plaza provides an all-season mixing spot for residents and visitors.

A clean, quiet bus, powered by biomass, shuttles people between destinations.

The historical church also known as Louie's takes center stage, positioned in the center of East Avenue and Fourth Street, which is cordoned off to traffic. The structure serves as a visitors' center, a focal point that represents history and community.

"This should be the soul of the place," said economic development consultant Tom Hudson, of Moscow-based The Hudson Company.

Hudson, city officials and interested members of the public are in the process of formulating a downtown master plan designed to revitalize the city. The process is in the first of three phases.

A town hall meeting Thursday, Dec. 15, brought together approximately 120 people to discuss ways to enhance Ketchum's downtown, and by extension, the town's overall appeal.

"You can take parts and pieces of your past and incorporate them into your future," Hudson said. "Fourth Street is a huge opportunity to do something meaningful."

Part of that vision is creating a pedestrian-friendly corridor, with pockets of visual "rewards" and public art that celebrate local history.

"The challenge here is for you to design what goes into this place," he said. "What's right for Ketchum? We're not going to put some dead guy on a horse."

Defining Ketchum to outsiders and creating an attractive atmosphere for locals are challenges facing the city.

"This is a very important time in your history," Hudson said. "There are external pressures on you that make a part of who you are unrecognizable.

"I've worked in this business for 21 years. I've never known a more historic moment in any community I've worked in. This is it."

Some of Ketchum's unique challenges are:

· More than 16,000 vehicles pass through the town daily.

· Thirty percent of the city's downtown is parking, Hudson said. Fifteen percent is an ideal figure.

· The streets of downtown are the second darkest of any town in which Hudson has worked.

· The downtown is spread out and too large for a city of 3,800 people, and its districts are undefined.

"A lot of people don't know how strong your arts sector is," Hudson said. "A lot of people could be coming here for that."

The building at First and Main streets, once occupied by Williams Market, would be ideal for a performing arts school or venue, he said.

"We consider it an 'opportunity site,'" Hudson said. "You're immediately telling people (upon entering the town), 'We're embracing arts here.'"

Sun Valley Center for the Arts is a valuable resource, he added, but it could be capitalized on more.

"It can be part of your broader image," he said.

A culinary institute could draw students to the area, providing staff for local restaurants and year-round patronage for local businesses.

At meeting's end, attendees placed sticky dots on a wall chart to indicate their satisfaction with the vision being put forth for downtown.

The vast majority of the 110 dots denoted "very comfortable. None was "uncomfortable." None was "neutral."

A lone dot was stuck next to "very uncomfortable."

Robin Reiners, co-owner of Gallery DeNovo in Ketchum, felt positive after Thursday's meeting.

"We're very excited to see retail more vibrant and to have more visitors here," she said. "We'd like to see the town be more like the vision I saw in the presentation."

More pedestrian-friendly areas, naturescapes and reconfigured parking were aspects that appealed to her.

She and her husband looked at many resort towns before selecting Ketchum as their home four years ago.

"The community aspect was most important," she said. "That's what drew us here. (Hudson)'s ideas were great. He did a good job of bringing together a lot of people with different ideas. He's very conscious that that's important."

More information gathered by Hudson and his team can be found through a link at

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