Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Town welcomes welcome center

Visitor center, Starbucks franchise open for business

Express Staff Writer

Nearly 100 people gathered in a renovated building on the edge of the Ketchum Town Square on Friday to get a glimpse of what the area's new visitor center, merged with a Starbucks café, looks and feels like.

"Never underestimate the power of community," said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall. "Through perseverance we were able to pull it off."

The opening was part of a plan put forth by city leaders years ago to reinvigorate the Town Square, a former parking lot, and a former bank building—on the corner of East Avenue and Sun Valley Road—that has become the visitor center.

"It comes at a pretty critical time in our community," said Greg Randolph, general manager of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce. "It was innovate-or-die time. I think you can see there was a lot of innovation here."

Randolph said the project was done on "a shoestring budget and extremely short timeline."

Architect Susan Desko designed and coordinated the effort, assisted by many other volunteers and suppliers.

"This town owes an incredible thanks to scores of people who worked on this," said Jake Peters, board president of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.

According to a news release from the Chamber of Commerce, the interior takes "a minimalist and technologically based approach ... [and] is a unique and authentic expression of everything that is Sun Valley. Elements from the natural environment are juxtaposed against modern technology in a setting which encourages dialogue and is envisioned as a bridge between the local community and visitors."

Designers incorporated 13 dead standing timbers from nearby mountains to form the information desk and used Douglas fir stumps for stools. Other materials include raw steel, Glu-Lam and Micro-Lam lumber, stone and concrete.

"I love it," said Ketchum resident Annelia Williams. "I love the wood, the open ceilings. I love the natural materials. It has an openness to it. It has varied seating. It invites people to come together and associate. It's awesome."

Little Ruby Crist, 5, said her favorite part of the opening event was when she saw herself sledding in a marketing video shown on flat-screen TVs. She also enjoyed the cake and finding balloons with brother, Emmett, 19 months.

Their mom, Monica Crist, said she liked the look of the building.

"It has a warm feel ... that captures the feel of the area," she said. "It's a big space but it really seems cozy."

A Starbucks franchise held a grand opening later that afternoon, including wine tasting and live music.

The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency and franchise owners Cairde Group entered into a lease agreement this summer that allows the group to rent about half the building for the Starbucks.

Elements in the café were made by local crafts people using resources and reclaimed materials from the area and around the state.

"This unique combination of a Starbucks and Visitors Center offers a warm friendly atmosphere for visitors and locals to learn about events and explore the history of Sun Valley while connecting over a cup of coffee or relaxing with a glass of wine and beer," states an information sheet distributed at the opening.

Many people in the community, however, are unhappy with the unique combination.

Opposition swelled in the face of the URA's renting public space to a private enterprise. A petition against the idea, as well as a threatened lawsuit, put the project in doubt. City leaders, however, moved ahead with the plans.

Rebecca Meany:

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