Moving toward a brighter future

by SHELBY ROGNSTAD Contributing Writer
| September 24, 2020 1:00 AM

The last several weeks have been difficult for many.

The skies have cleared after a week of some of the worst air quality readings we’ve seen in the area. We had seen a steady decline in COVID-19 cases until these last couple weeks. An increase in cases was anticipated with schools reopening. After notable disruption and hostility by some present at the Aug. 19 council meeting, the last two council meetings began to feel normal again as decency and civility returned. In that space some significant events occurred that bear mention.

Last Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved the long-awaited Parks and Recreation Master Plan. A year-and-a-half in the making, it represented the most robust and sustained public engagement effort the city has undertaken. Thank you to all the citizens and staff who contributed to this effort.

In the plan, a new vision for City Beach and Sand Creek Landing was established. This new downtown waterfront creates a more inviting space, driving economic activity and quality of life. Better access to the water, more recreational opportunities at City Beach, along with greater use capacity and expansion of activity across all four seasons are significant improvements over the current facilities.

The council also approved a land swap with a developer at Bridge Street and First Avenue that will integrate with Sand Creek waterfront as envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan as well as enable the first phase of development of the Parks Plan along Sand Creek. This public private partnership leverages private dollars to expand public right of way for improved pedestrian mobility at Sandpoint’s busiest intersection, First Avenue and Bridge Street. It funds a retaining wall to support the public right of way along Bridge Street. It funds $180,000 to support stormwater management at the site, $300,000 in impact fees and $70,000/year in new taxes. The $16 million mixed use development will bring economic vitality to the downtown core, bringing back The Hound pizzeria, several new businesses and a dozen or more residences.

Missing from the deal was a guaranteed bicycle route from as originally envisioned in the Explore Sandpoint Bike Network and the original Sand Creek Landing conceptual plan. This is not an oversight. Rather, as part of the Multimodal Plan currently under development, a wholistic solution is being explored to provide safe passage for bicyclists of all ages through downtown to City Beach. The Multimodal Plan will come before council for consideration later this fall.

Another public/private partnership is being contemplated for expansion of City Beach as envisioned in the new Parks Plan. Council will consider a similar land swap in October to acquire 2.1 acres south of City Beach (currently the RV park) in exchange for 1.1 acres of public lawn east of the Best Western Hotel. This, too, will be a win-win for the city and beach users. It will enable significant improvements to the boat launch, new moorage, improved parking and other amenities at the beach while supporting economic development with an upgraded hotel and Trinity restaurant and drawing greater economic activity to downtown.

Related to the parks plan, Ponderay just received a $1.4 million BUILD grant to fund engineering and permitting for an underpass connection from Ponderay to the Pend Oreille Bay Trail. This will include a new parking lot accessed off of Highway 2 in Ponderay. This will offer a primary trailhead with significantly improved parking for a heavily used recreational trail.

Lastly, economic activity in Sandpoint has been impressively positive through the summer. Despite COVID-19 and its many impacts, city revenues generated from the 1% local option tax in July were 3.9% above those in 2019. June collections were 4.4% over 2019. While August numbers aren’t available yet, it’s clear that the local economy remains strong.

Comparatively, the state of Idaho reported on Tuesday that sales tax revenues exceeded budget by 13% for the year to date. Meanwhile, unemployment in Idaho is 4.2% ranking 3rd in the nation. While may people still struggle through these challenging times, it is encouraging that the economy is rebounding and there are many positive developments locally to give us hope for a brighter future.

Please join me for the Mayor’s Roundtable to discuss all this and more this Friday, Sept. 25, at 4 p.m. on Zoom:

You can also watch on Facebook Live through my page, Mayor Shelby Rognstad.