Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Plan proposed for Williams?, nexStage

First Street closure could be linchpin to commercial building success

Express Staff Writer

The owner of the Williams? Market property has proposed to incorporate the nexStage Theater and First Street into a plan to redevelop the entire area into a mixed-use arts, housing and commercial complex. Photo by David N. Seelig

It's not much more than an idea, but it's a big idea.

In a proposal revealed to the Ketchum City Council Monday evening, the old Williams' Market grocery store and the nexStage Theatre would be razed and rebuilt as one interconnected project, and First Street would be vacated by the city to become a pedestrian corridor.

Ketchum architect Jim Ruscitto and developer Jay Carden, who owns the Williams' Market property, explained some very rough preliminary designs to get a feel from the City Council about whether or not the development team should move forward with more expensive, thorough blueprints.

"Perhaps with the vacation of First Street from Main to Leadville, maybe both of those properties could be united and built as one project," Ruscitto said.

They envision a four-story building with a number of community housing and market-rate condominiums. The project would also include a remodeled nexStage Theater, a culinary arts institute and commercial space.

Ruscitto and Carden stressed that they would work hand-in-hand with the nexStage board of directors to make sure the theater's needs are met. To that extent, the nexStage is in the tail end of a capital campaign to raise $1.5 million needed to purchase the theater's building.

To date $1,140,000 of that amount has been donated or pledged, with $360,000 still needed to complete the purchase. The campaign for the nonprofit theater organization is being led by nexStage board chairman William Lowe and the theater's managing director, Kathy Wygle.

Wygle said the theater's board is aware of the plans, but most members have not yet seen them, and they are reserving judgement.

"This new plan is new to us," she said. "We don't own the property yet. Philosophically, I think there's a lot of possibilities we'd be willing to work with. But nexStage is not selling out before we even own it."

The planning process for the Williams site on Main Street has taken time, as well as some trial and error.

"For about two years we've been working on every conceivable project for that property," Ruscitto said. Those ideas include a culinary art institute, commercial space, community housing, market rate housing, a theater and underground parking.

City Council members were receptive to the concept but were unable to fully endorse such a complex proposal following such a rudimentary presentation. The issue of vacating the street would obviously be controversial and require study, they agreed.

"I don't necessarily like the way that street functions right now," said Mayor Randy Hall. "It just sort of seems to be a shortcut and a raceway for people to cut across town. At some point some sort of traffic calming could be needed."

Councilman Ron Parsons, on the other hand, said he sees First Street as an important road.

"This is such a provocative, out-of-the-box idea," he said. "There are way more questions than answers for me. I need some time to think about it. There are so many moving parts to this. There would be development agreements, TDRs."

He said he wants to be careful because First Street is a "major street."

"It's not just some periphery hanging out on some hillside," he said. "I want to make sure we have some streets designated for pedestrian-type use and some for traffic. I always assumed this was more on the traffic side."

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