Ketchum eco-concious architect Dale Bates, manager of the Ketchum Community Development Corp.'s Walkable Ketchum Project, and his team of 32 volunteers have been working hard since March to make Ketchum more foot-friendly.
For the past few months, Bates has been hitting the streets to gather data, map out the Ketchum downtown area and get a sense of public opinion toward the project. The project proposes many new signs for the Ketchum area, maintenance work for sidewalks and streetlights and the nurturing of a community subculture through written snippets on the new signs.
On Monday, Bates presented the Ketchum City Council with preliminary sign designs and feedback gathered during three public outreach sessions.
The council and Mayor Randy Hall expressed enthusiasm toward the project.
"I think it's a good project," Councilman Jim Slanetz said.
The project has not yet been approved, but taxpayer dollars have already been earmarked in Ketchum's 2013 tentative budget to speed up "Phase 1" of the project. Phase 1 will include putting up welcome signs at Ketchum's main entrances, retrofitting existing vehicle signposts with less-confusing, more-visible signs, and positioning a small number of guideposts in downtown Ketchum with maps and directions for pedestrians.
"The mayor has already proposed $100,000 for walkability in next year's tentative budget," Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks said.
Bates said he considers putting taxpayer dollars toward creating a more walkable downtown an investment in Ketchum's economy. In his presentation to the council, he included a slide that stated, "Walkability increases property values, is good for retail sales, and is a tourist magnet."
On July 12, the project held its third public outreach session at the Ketchum Town Square. Project volunteers set up a variety of question boards displaying ideas for signs and questions for the public. Bates asked citizens to express their opinions by placing sticky dots on the sign designs and answers they liked best.
The questions included:
( "Do you have a hard time giving directions to visitors?" (26 said yes, 13 said no, five were undecided)
( "Do we need to do a better job keeping sidewalks free of obstructions, snow and ice? (39 yes, three no, two undecided)
( "Would complete, safe, well-lit and well-maintained sidewalks help retail and restaurants?" (42 yes, two no, three undecided).
"We give directions in this town by saying, 'It's just past the old post office' or, 'It's where that used to be.' This is very confusing to visitors," Bates said in an interview.
However, he said at the meeting that giving directions is about more than telling someone how to get somewhere.
"Wayfinding is not just a direction from A to B," he said. "It's telling a story, giving a mental map, giving someone the background so they can go out and explore. Wayfaring functions as a utility, but acts as a brand."
He said putting up new signs is an opportunity to create a "subculture." Some of the new signs would incorporate Ketchum history, wisdom and wit to make them more memorable and to pass along a little something to passersby.
Of the 170 valley residents who voted using Bates' dots, 29 percent selected "Whimsical/Unique Ketchum" as their favorite motif for short messages on the new signs. The runners-up were "Mountain Elegance" and "Embracing/Welcoming," both with 15 percent of the votes.
Hall closed the discussion by thanking Bates for his "leadership and vision" and asking him to prepare the "numbers" for the council's Aug. 6 meeting.
The Walkable Ketchum project will hold another public outreach session demonstrating the refinement of the proposed designs on Tuesday, July 31, from 2-6 p.m. at the Town Square. Bates said he hopes to get some portion of Phase 1 done before Labor Day, even if it's just a couple of guideposts and one conveniently located "Welcome to Ketchum" sign.
Brennan Rego: firstname.lastname@example.org