McEuen: Seeking a different solution

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Big changes are being proposed for McEuen Field by Team McEuen and the City Council, and these proposals have generated considerable public interest and some strong feelings. I was quite impressed with the plan when it was first presented to the public at North Idaho College in January - I am a bit of a dreamer by nature, and I am easily impressed by colorful architectural renderings and big thinking. However, during the following three months of the further development this plan, I have been increasingly bothered by a number of important aspects of this project:

1) The strong persuasion on the part of Team McEuen and the City Council that the current McEuen Field is badly deteriorated and needs a drastic overhaul.

2) The further strong persuasion on their part that the need for this overhaul is a pressing matter and needs to be acted upon quickly.

3) Their convictions that the boat launch and accompanying parking areas are unsightly, hazardous, and not fitting components of a high-class, downtown park and waterfront - and therefore they need to be relocated.

4) Their further convictions that the three ballfields are unsightly, a poor use of space, too limiting, etc. - and that they also need to be relocated.

5) The City Council's selection of Team McEuen and the hiring of Miller-Stauffer, et al, without conducting an initial public survey to gauge the prevailing sentiment regarding the elimination of the boat launch, the ball fields, and several other aspects of the current park.

6) The fact that the initial presentation of the plan was not accompanied by cost estimates, budgets, and funding mechanisms.

7) The fact that Team McEuen's public survey is poorly structured and omits key questions entirely.

8) The disinclination of the mayor and the City Council to entertain a public vote on the current proposal.

9) And finally, I am quite troubled by a pervasive public perception that these changes to McEuen Field have already been decided upon by "insiders," and that this grand plan will be foisted upon the citizens by a city government which often seems to consider its public-minded citizens to be poorly informed and bothersome.

Any of these issues would be a red flag. Taken together, I feel that they present several important reasons for the City Council to take serious pause for thought.

I attended a packed City Council meeting a month or so ago where approximately 150 concerned citizens filled the room, and some 15 - 20 of them sincerely and intelligently addressed the City Council regarding McEuen Field for one hour and 20 minutes, generally taking issue with many aspects of this project. One specific request, which was made repeatedly by several speakers, and which was echoed by "Public Vote" signs displayed by many members of the audience, was that the City Council add the consideration of a public vote on the proposal to a meeting agenda in the future.

The mayor and council members listened to these many comments with hardly a word in response. After the final person had spoken, the council then proceeded directly to the consent calendar with no acknowledgement of this request, no comments on any of the other points raised, and no thanks offered to the stalwart citizens who had taken their valuable time to contribute their opinions into the arena. Regardless of their individual opinions on the issues at hand, I was saddened on behalf of our great city for the lack of enthusiasm and gratitude shown by the mayor and council for the public input that was being presented to them that night.

No matter what changes come to McEuen Field, if the current planning and decision-making processes create public dissension and a strong perception that the rights and privileges of the ordinary citizens of Coeur d'Alene are being disregarded and ignored, we will all be the poorer for this outcome. We need to come up with a plan that will be truly transparent and widely accepted. To this end, I suggest:

1) That the current push toward the adoption of the Team McEuen proposal be suspended.

2) That a public survey or referendum then be conducted to fully determine the desires of the public regarding the Third Street boat launch and the ball fields. This survey should also determine the degree of satisfaction the public has with the other present features of McEuen Field.

3) That additional proposals for changes and improvements to McEuen Field be requested from other local designers, architects, and landscapers.

I attended the public rally presented by The Friends of McEuen last Saturday, and I spent several hours there talking with people, watching two different baseball games, and walking across the park to the library and back. The weather was beautiful, the park was alive with activities, and I really couldn't imagine a more perfect scene. This day was a small part of the beautiful heartland of America in its full expression, and it was a joy to see. I realized then that I personally cannot see any compelling reasons why McEuen Field and the boat launch need to be changed in any significant way.

Even the parking lots, considered unsightly by many, are an inevitable part of modern life, and they should not be disdained. The existing lots could be resurfaced, they could have a few tree-islands added, and perhaps they could be laid-out in a more creative fashion - and then they could be treasured for what they are. Parking structures are very expensive and represent a huge commitment, and surface parking must be a more practical and economical choice in almost every instance.

The proposed McEuen project would have seemed like a big step four or five years ago when the economy was booming. Now, in the midst of the current economic slowdown, the proposed changes seem extravagant and over-reaching to many people. Given this perception, and given the present degree of dissention over the goals and methods of the current participants, I feel strongly that this project should be placed on hold and the entire process should be re-evaluated. This issue is about more than just the future of McEuen Field - it is also about those of us who gratefully call Coeur d'Alene home being able to find a common voice.

Jeff Connaway is a Coeur d'Alene resident.

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