Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Seize the day for Ketchum's downtown

"I have never known a more historic moment in any community I've worked with." These words spoken to a packed house by Ketchum's downtown development consultant Tom Hudson last week were a call to action.

He delivered a blunt "tough love" program for the downtown with humor and caring passion. "This is not a joke," he said. "You are losing your identity in the business core."

Six weeks ago Hudson surveyed people interested in Ketchum's future to gauge their likes and dislikes. He walked the streets. He asked what people cared about and what was missing.

Turns out people like Ketchum's sense of community. They also know it's disappearing. Hudson said the city's biggest challenge is to recapture a sense of identification and authenticity.

He described its problems.

About 16,000 cars roll into Ketchum every day. Public parking isn't well identified. Downtown is fragmented and confusing, and dark at night. Personality is missing. Street names aren't logical—Spruce, Walnut, then ... East Avenue? Even the things people love about the place, like its two waterways, are not in evidence.

Spring and fall business is up, but the best summer and winter months aren't getting better. Retailers and professionals have a hard time starting and staying.

Hudson's ideas for change should leave anyone who moved to Hailey or Bellevue still feeling like they are from Ketchum. Some are simple, like increasing the stock of small retail spaces, identifying public parking, and renaming some streets.

Others will take some effort, for example, making Fourth Street into a welcoming visual feast, forming a community development corporation, running buses with electricity generated by garbage or sewage, and building employee housing.

One big idea created an Aha! moment: Putting the iconic Louie's building in the center of East Avenue as an extension of a multi-use community space on what is now a city-owned parking lot.

And parking? Better organization. "If you had a great place, then people would park three blocks away to get there," Hudson said.

Hudson asserted that more hotel rooms alone will not solve the city's problems and that the solution lies in making downtown a place people want to be.

The downtown plan is far from finished. When it is, he warned, the trick for everyone in Ketchum would be to avoid forming a circle and shooting inward.

We couldn't agree more. No plan will please everyone. But doing nothing should not be an option. Too much is at stake.

Carpe Diem—seize the day.

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