Wednesday, May 7, 2008

From East to West

CDC executive director brings diverse experience to Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Gary Rapport

Despite the fact that this is his first position in a resort town, Gary Rapport, the new executive director for the Ketchum Community Development Corporation, is not worried about the transition.

"I'm used to working with a lot of different cultures," Rapport said.

That's quite an understatement considering that Rapport worked abroad for over two decades, in a war-torn Israel and an Indonesia wracked by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and terrorism.

Most recently, he was based in Bozeman, Mont., working with Native American communities throughout the West, which, Rapport said, face some of the same challenges as Ketchum.

"It's all about creating sustainable economic development," Rapport said while sitting in the CDC office in downtown Ketchum. "Both places are dealing with affordable housing issues and attracting new businesses."

On top of these, however, Rapport had to deal with some difficult demographic characteristics, such as the 80 percent diabetes rate on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The disease carries with it a life expectancy of 45 years old.

Perhaps that's why, when Rapport began fielding calls during his first week of work from residents angered over rumors about the relocation of the bike path, he was able to take it all in stride.

"It was a good thing because it showed me what I could encounter," said the 51-year-old father of three. "I really enjoy the challenge."

The challenges faced by the nonprofit CDC include not only affordable housing, but also working toward economic diversification, researching the use of alternative energy options, and improving public amenities and pedestrian access.

The rumors stemmed from a potential CDC workforce housing project that would include up to 12 units located on a parcel of city-owned land south of Wood River Drive straddling the bike path behind the Crystal Villa and Pennay's condominium complexes.

However, Rapport was quick to point out that the CDC was simply working through ideas for a project and that no designs had been made.

"There's a misperception that we're doing backroom deals and that's just not the case," said Rapport, who has been commuting from Bozeman until his children finish the school year before moving to Ketchum. "One of our biggest problems is transparency. I'm anxious to get the word out about what we do."

To that end, Rapport wrote a letter to the editor of the Mountain Express in March stating that some details of the housing project, including scale and the removal of the bike path, have been greatly exaggerated or even fabricated.

Rapport said a fair amount of the opposition came from those who don't realize the benefit affordable housing would have on the community.

"A lot of people don't see the need because they're only here when it's busy and the shops are full," Rapport said. "But they don't live here full time and see what it's like during slack. In the end, they'll end up moving to another booming resort because nothing will be going on here."

With that in mind, Rapport said constructing a viable affordable housing project is one of the organization's top priorities. In fact, the CDC has put the South Wood River Drive project on hold in order to investigate other sites that would allow for a greater impact.

"Ketchum is at the same point it was five, even 10 years ago," Rapport said. "At this pace we'll have 200 to 300 units of affordable housing by 2010, when the demand is for 3,000."

To that end, Rapport believes his experience working in Native American communities can help, as he worked extensively at grant writing and researching alternative funding sources. As an example, Rapport said the CDC will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which offers funding for rural communities.

"They want to help and have money for cities like Ketchum," Rapport said. "These grants are often overlooked because we don't always realize that they are not just for poor communities."

To help increase the avenues for outside help, Rapport said it behooves the CDC to not only work with other non-profit organizations in the Wood River Valley, such as ARCH, but to also increase collaboration among the CDC's five teams. Rapport said the Workforce Housing Team could partner with the Renewable Resources Team to integrate geothermal energy into affordable housing units, thereby creating projects that could be a model for other communities.

No matter what the project, though, Rapport wants the CDC to involve both city officials and residents to ensure that nothing interrupts the sense of community that makes Ketchum unusual among resort towns.

"When we make decisions, everything will be open to the public and they will be asked to contribute," Rapport said. "The CDC can get into any area that helps the city. There's no end to what we want to do."

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