Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Public gets glimpse of new visitor center

Project aims to combine rustic and modern elements

Express Staff Writer

Architect Mark Thompson adjusts a model of the visitor center Friday in the Ketchum Town Square. Thompson, who works for Susan Desko, principal architect on the building’s renovation, was on hand to answer questions about the project during its public unveiling.

Inspired by the community's love of the outdoors, designers of a remodel for the visitor center in Ketchum have taken the valley's hallmark draw and paired it with visual and technological wayfinding to come up with the building's new look.

A model and renderings of the building, at the corner of Sun Valley Road and East Avenue in Ketchum, were unveiled to the public Friday. The former bank building is being transformed with nods to both rustic aesthetics and modern amenities.

"The building anchors Town Square, but the building is an extension of that experience," architect Susan Desko said during a tour.

The visitor center will take up about half the building, which is owned by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency. The other portion will house a Starbucks franchise.

During construction, a temporary visitor center has been set up at 640 N. Main St., next to the former Clarion Inn.

The visitor center opening is scheduled for Nov. 11.

Desko, like many other contributors to the project, donated her time.

The goal is to create a community hub and landmark building in the center of town.

"The design for the building ... draws on inspiration from the area's natural surroundings juxtaposed by the technology which allows communities like Ketchum and Sun Valley (to) thrive despite being located in the remote mountains of Idaho," Greg Randolph, general manager of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce, said in a staff report submitted to the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission.

Inside, logs reclaimed from Stanley-area trees killed by beetles have been set up to create a "forest of trees," Desko said. "We're hoping the experience is bringing the outdoors in and bringing you back outside."

Countertops will wend their way through the trees, with flat screens mounted on the logs as a modern take on the old board signs nailed to a tree. The high-tech postings will serve as informational and wayfinding devices, she said.


A mezzanine will offer a peek at Baldy, and an old vault will be repurposed into a public meeting room.

"The whole building will look like it's made of glass, stacked wood and the existing shake roof," Desko said. "The overall effect is all about the wood. We'll get an aesthetic transformation all around the building."

Huge logs leaning against the east side of the building will serve as a wayfinding element and an obvious meeting point for locals and visitors, she said.

The Sun Valley Road side of the building will accommodate a new bus stop; once it's complete, Mountain Rides buses will stop on the northwest corner instead of the northeast corner. A small parcel of landscaped land at the building's corner will be redesigned for pedestrian use.

"For us, this area (seemed) kind of underutilized," Desko said. "So, instead of just plant material, we'll have people."

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall expressed satisfaction with Desko's work.

"Through design you've connected properties," he said. "You've tied it all together. The theme runs through."

Ketchum resident Robin Reiners came to Town Square on Friday to look at the building's development.

"I can imagine how many ways the public can utilize the visitor center for a variety of things," she said.

Among the uses she envisioned was a forum for local businesses, organizations and galleries, such as her Gallery DeNovo, to preview their offerings, as well as provide information on how to get to the businesses.

"This is going to provide a meeting spot and a central location year-round," she added. "It's utilizing an old building in such a beautiful new way."

Doug Brown, executive director of Wood River Economic Partnership, said he liked the way the natural environment merged with the contemporary world.

"I love the wood element," he said. "It's our environment in a modern way. Town Square is totally established now."

Rebecca Meany:

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