Friday, April 13, 2007

Fourth Street discussion draws crowd

City tries to inform retailers, quell unrest


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Deborah Burns Photo by Greg Stahl

About 70 local retailers jammed into Ketchum City Hall Thursday afternoon to express concerns and learn about the large-scale construction project taking place in their front yards.

"What will happen if it's not done by July 1?" asked an agitated Don Leonard, former owner of Chateau Drug.

"It will get done by July 1," answered Ketchum City Administrator Ron LeBlanc.

"That's not answering the question," Leonard shot back. "What if it's not done? There's got to be a backup plan for this."

Construction began Monday on a three-block revitalization project on Fourth Street, between Walnut and Leadville avenues. But revitalization for the time being means chain-link fencing, heavy equipment and making a sinkhole out of one of Ketchum's primary thoroughfares and business centers.

"It's an investment in our commercial future," said Jerry Seiffert, a former Ketchum mayor. "I wish we'd have done a lot of these things sooner. It's not easy. Let's get on with it."

The meeting was hosted by the Ketchum Retailer's Alliance, which meets the second Thursday of each month, typically at noon at the Images of Nature gallery. It is organized by Deborah Burns, who is a downtown merchant, member of the Ketchum Community Development Corporation and member of the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission.

"We're here to keep an open mind," Burns said. "This is not a (gripe) session. This is something that is already happening. This is about the beginning of our future in Ketchum."

Tom Hudson is an independent consultant who was hired on a contract basis two years ago to help formulate a downtown master plan, Warm Springs revitalization plan and institute the Community Development Corporation and an Urban Renewal Agency. He is also executive director of the Community Development Corporation.

There has been a lack of focus in Ketchum over the last 10 to 20 years that has resulted in a decline of customers and a decline in sustainability, Hudson said, "and our pedestrian environment continues to decline."

"Fourth Street is one of the first steps in the revitalizing process. There's very little walking that goes on in the community. I think there's a reason why people don't walk. This isn't a nice place to walk.

"There's a lot that's going on that's wrong out here. This isn't just some pie-in-the-sky idea. We've thought about it carefully."

LeBlanc reiterated that the project will be done by July 1.

"The biggest obstacle to success here today is to have everyone understanding of what we're trying to do," he said.

For most of this week, noticeable progress was made as excavators removed the old street and sidewalk surfaces, LeBlanc said. The next phase, that of installing conduits and pipes beneath the street's surface, will be slower and will take four to five weeks. Once that infrastructure is in place, limited passage across the street will be allowed.

There are, however, loose ends that remain to be tied up. The number of parking spaces on Sun Valley Road and Fourth Street combined should actually increase because the Sun Valley Road bicycle path will be moved to Fourth Street this summer. That will mean parking that has been traditionally closed beginning June 15 to make way for bicycles will become available.

The heating system for sidewalks on Fourth Street has not yet been determined, however, and that means it is not certain the sidewalks will be heated by next winter, said Ketchum Councilman Baird Gourlay.

Nevertheless, the meeting was about information, and those who spoke stressed that they want to cooperate with impacted business owners the best they can.

"We've done everything we can to try to get the word out," Hudson said. "I would say there has been an extraordinary amount of information out in the public eye on this. People need to take responsibility."

For information, to voice a concern or to learn about upcoming events associated with construction or post-construction, call LeBlanc at 726-7801 or visit one of the following Web sites: www.ci.ketchum.id.us/, www.visitsunvalley.com or www.sunvalleyonline.com. Additionally, questions and comments can be e-mailed to CDC Communications Director Joy Kasputys at joykasputys@gmail.com.

At this point, Burns said, it's about making due in the meantime and looking forward to the finished product.

"Life is a work in progress," she said. "There are some things we cannot change."




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