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City set to launch design competition

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | January 15, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Just like someone preparing for a big dance, a proposed design competition to shape the city's downtown, waterfront and community aims to help the city look its best on the dance floor.

"In my opinion, we are the prettiest girl at the dance," Councilman Andy Groat said after getting a look at the competition's draft manual. "And it is okay for us to make these individuals and others compete for our attention. We've been practicing all these dance moves, we're as pretty as can be. And there is some hesitation and some anxiety from our populace, I think, to actually step out on the dance floor and do something different than what they've known before."

A 38-page manual detailing the city's planned design competition for its downtown and waterfront areas was presented to the Sandpoint City Council at a special meeting Wednesday to give councilmembers a chance to review the document and digest the contents. A vote is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Council members said they appreciated receiving the document early and looked forward to diving into it in detail before the upcoming meeting. As the concepts has percolated in the community, councilmembers said they've heard concern on whether groups outside the area, much less outside Idaho, will be able to grasp the community's character and give meaningful input and solutions. Others expressed concern on if the community would be able to give input at each stage of the process, councilmembers told Stastny.

"We've had a number of community members that have reached out and asked a very simple question: How could a group outside of the area of Sandpoint or, even Idaho, actually, attain the character or the representation of the character of Sandpoint without being here?" Councilman Justin Dick said.

Stastny said care was taken to ensure public participation at appropriate points in each stage. Additional questions can be directed to Stapleton, who can help competition managers incorporate them to the question-and-answer process, he added.

"There are enough times, I think, within this, where the community will be able to interact with the process and identify where there might be concerns or some bits and pieces that they want answers to," Stastny said.

With a lot of "pent-up" private capital waiting on the outcome of the design competition, Councilman Jason Welker asked how the process would deliver what the community needs to "steer that development in a way that fulfills the vision of the competition — and of the final design concept."

Because the process gives both the city and private developers a clear understanding of the city's vision of its future, Stastny said his sense is that the city would "come out of this with answers" that will allow everyone to proceed within the overall concept.

"I understand your concern, and I have a cop-out that we use a lot, 'trust the process,' but I think we'll get there," he said.

Council President Kate McAlister assured the others on the board that she had similar concerns when she was asked to be a member of the stakeholder team. She said the process was designed for the community and the design team to provide their particular visions for the future.

"Our first concern was about the citizens. This is our community, we've built this community. And so we deserve to have input on this," McAlister said, adding that that was built into the process.

The document covers everything from where the city is at to where it's going, its history, its goals and more," proposed competition manager Don Stastny said. "It both sets out the context, as well as the design goals, and serves as a repository for all of the rules and regulations governing the competition," Stastny said.

"[It] becomes, in a way, kind of a bible and roadmap for how we are going to go about the competition," he said, noting it sets the stage for a "good competition."

The manual helps potential designers understand the challenges — and potential solutions — facing the city and design teams. As it invites potential designers to be a part of the process, it details the competition and helps the teams get to know the community.

The concept and the manual were presented to the council ahead of its regular meeting in order to give members of the board a chance to review — and digest — the document.

The proposed design competition will go before the council Wednesday, Jan 19. The meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m., will be held at Sandpoint City Hall. If approved, the competition would be open to potential design teams Jan. 20.

The city opted to go with a competition to craft its vision for the downtown waterfront because it looks at the whole picture, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said. She told the council to look at the concept as a continuation of what it has already done, encompassing existing master plans that impact the downtown — from arts and culture, to transportation, to parks and recreation and everything in-between.

The competition would bring together all of those studies to develop a unified vision for the downtown. It would be complementary to the city's Comprehensive Plan update and the resultant document would serve as a reference for planning and zoning code changes.

The competition is broken down into three phases, Stastny said.

In the first, an open call is put out to potential design teams, which then submit portfolios based on the pre-set criteria. After portfolios are checked for compliance, a jury of local residents and industry experts select the design teams which will move onto the second stage. Portfolios would be due Feb. 13.

"We're not looking for a catalogue of everything they've ever done," Stastny said. "We're looking for specific examples about how they've handled complex problems like this before."

In creating the jury for the design competition, Stastny said the goal was to put together a "broad range of folks" that offered expertise in a variety of areas and fields. The jury includes both local residents and experts from the Pacific Northwest, Stastny said. In addition, four of the eight have direct connections to the community.

Instead of a typical conceptual process, the vetting is done by the jury group and the technical experts to ensure the concepts are technically feasible and consequences of proposed ideas considered, Stapleton said.

In the second stage, teams will be introduced to the public. Those teams will work on design concepts, which would be due May 11, Stastny said. After those concepts are submitted, they are again checked for compliance and reviewed by a technical advisory group, comprised of city staff. A "meet your designer" night — tentatively set for the week of May 15 — would give the community a chance to see presentations from each of the selected teams.

"The community [is] getting a real understanding about what the disciplines are that are coming in on the teams and what the commitment is to those teams to come up with the right kinds of answers," Stastny said.

The concepts would be reviewed by the jury, which would pick one team to recommend for selection by the city, which would be announced May 23. Sandpoint officials would then review the recommendation and, potentially, approve the selected team.

"In the end, we should have a overall concept … that has been reviewed by the community, as well as the technical advisory group, and will answer to what we are asking within the competition brief," Stastny said.

In the third and final stage, the selected team would meet with the advisory group and refine its proposal, based on input from the community, jury and advisory group. The final design concept would be due by June 16 and would be presented to the jury, which would evaluate the plan and make a recommendation to Sandpoint officials. A report would be given to the Sandpoint Council on June 21.

"The stage-three evaluation by the jury, then, will essentially say whether the concept has evolved to the point of addressing the different concerns," Stastny said.

Stastny said the city can realistically expect about a dozen design concepts, in part due to the "pretty specific" requirements outlined in the competition manual. Those dozen-or-so would be narrowed to three or four finalists for the second stage, with a sole winner moving on to the third stage.

Teams selected for the second stage would receive a $40,000 honorarium and the team selected for the third stage would, again, receive a $40,000 honorarium.

"Our overall objective is to celebrate and honor the past, recognize the pressures, demands and needs of the present and define the future of downtown Sandpoint and its waterfront," Stastny said. "Simply put, that is what we're trying to accomplish. This work will also, of course, inform your comprehensive plan update, future zoning and code changes that may be a part of it."

While the design competition targets the connection between the downtown and waterfront, no specific area was defined. This vaguery was intended to let teams explore for themselves the dynamics within, and the connections between each of these distinct areas.

The challenge being put to design teams is to envision a conceptual design for the downtown and waterfront areas that embraces both the community's character and culture. That design will need to include an overall framework that pays attention to nature, water quality, local tribes and the community's history. It also will need to focus on recreation, arts and culture, economic development and movement and access — including pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles.

The plan must be able to be adapted and have resilience included to improve built and natural systems, and well as identify potential solutions, Stastny said.

Stapleton said the city opted to go with the design competition because it is the past way to incorporate master plans already created, and build on already-completed downtown revitalization efforts. From the byway and Urban Renewal District to the 2009 Comp Plan, the city is really at the end of a 20-year effort to revitalize the downtown and its waterfront.

The design competition gives the best chance to combine and build upon those efforts, in a unified and cohesive manner, through a multidisciplinary approach, Stapleton said.

"This is an opportunity to re-vet all of those efforts and kind of culminate them into a single strategic vision," she added.

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