Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Citizens warm to Fourth Street plan

Crowd of 50 hears pitch on ?heritage corridor? in Ketchum


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz introduces the Community Development Corporation?s ?town design team? during a meeting Thursday, Dec. 7. The team, made up of Ketchum residents, created a plan for a Fourth Street ?heritage corridor.? Photo by David N. Seelig

John Nycum, a 29-year Ketchum resident, took a step forward and peered at a vision.

It wasn't his vision—not yet, anyway. Rather, it was an image of an enlivened Fourth Street created by a city-appointed committee of citizens.

"I've got a lot of questions how this is going to transpire," Nycum said.

The city of Ketchum has been working for more than a year on a downtown master plan. Economic development consultant Tom Hudson led the process of town hall meetings, a "Designfest" and numerous hearings on what a revitalized town should be. High on the list, according to the process's participants, was a Fourth Street "heritage corridor."

That first aspect of the plan is now in the design phase.

The city held a town hall meeting in the former Tapestry Gallery & Wine space in Ketchum on Thursday, Dec. 7.

Nearly 50 participants viewed a long, wall-mounted sketch with pictures of a remodeled Fourth Street, one that includes public art, slower traffic, room for bikes, benches, trees, historical interpretation nodes and myriad new components to make the street more pedestrian friendly.

"The purpose of this is public awareness—for people to come and look at it and visualize it and comment on it, negative or positive," said Ketchum City Council President Baird Gourlay. "There's a lot of ideas that will come off that paper on the wall."

Gourlay said everything is up for discussion and revision.

"It's sort of that first, best step," he said. "We want community involvement to tell us if we're going down the wrong street, so to speak."

The only negative comment Gourlay has heard is about parking, a concern that kept cropping up during the evening.

"There's not a tremendous loss, and we're trying to find a way to make up for it," Gourlay said. "That's a reality when you try to make something pedestrian friendly. Cars are the first thing to go."

Nycum worries about the effect on Atkinsons' Market shoppers.

"It's the only grocery store in town," he said. "They aren't going to walk three blocks with their groceries. If the city had put in a double-tiered parking lot where the 511 Building is (in the 1980s), you wouldn't have a parking problem."

Architect Dale Bates, chairman of the Community Development Corporation's town design committee, said the city doesn't have a parking problem.

"It has a walkability problem," he said. "We need more places for people. Not more places for cars."

The city is considering paid parking in the core, valet service for grocery pick-up and other parking management strategies.

Design committee member Mark Johnstone pointed to Boise's Basque Block, where public art reigns supreme, luring pedestrians to linger by providing them with topics of discovery, study and conversation.

"Really good public art provides a sense of discovery for people when they walk through it," he said. "That's really how we envision this whole street."

Hailey resident Jason Fry came to see what progress has been made and where the heritage corridor should fit in with the overall master plan.

"I definitely need to be educated more whether it should be a priority," he said. "It's on (my) list. I'm just not sure where it fits on the list."

The corridor would likely be built in stages, depending on finances the Urban Renewal Agency and the city—through its capital improvement program—are able to come up with.

Bates and other committee members explained to the gathering the design ideas they came up with and why it is important to construct change.

"This is not a world-class town anymore," said Bates, a 28-year resident. "We need to be, and we can be."

Meeting participants at the end of the evening placed sticky dots on a sheet of paper to indicate their level of comfort with the design. Of 29 dots, 24 gave the plan a "seven" or above on a scale of one to 10, while five gave it a "two" or lower.

"In terms of a tool to grade us, that gives us some good information," said Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz. "In terms of discussion (at the meeting), they were pretty excited we are actually going to do something."

Although Nycum learned that parking is not the plan's priority, he was a little more comfortable about the street's prospects.

"It doesn't look like they're going to be eliminating parking that's there," he said. "They're just going to make things better for walkers, which is great."

"My mind is always open," he added.

Moniz said the next step is to work public comments into the plan and put the project out for bid, maybe in March 2007.




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