Widmyer artful in update of city

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Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer speaks Tuesday about the state of the city at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. (RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press)

COEUR d’ALENE — Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer isn’t upper crust, although he is sometimes accused of it.

The city’s array of public art — 111 major pieces with more being added every year — often prompts the criticism, Widmyer told a full house Tuesday morning at The Coeur d’Alene Resort conference center during his fifth state of the city address.

Widmyer relayed a conversation he had with a disgruntled citizen who associated art with aristocracy, and the mayor’s support of public art as excessive — and unbecoming of the working class.

“Maybe I am part of the elite by who I associate with,” Widmyer said. “I’ll let you be the judge.”

The mayor flashed a picture on a screen behind him of Terry Cooper, the burly and usually grinning manager of Coeur d’Alene’s Downtown Association, a group whose tireless efforts have for almost 30 years helped attract visitors to this former mill town.

The stunt drew applause from the breakfast audience, and it made another point:

The city, its administrators, business community and plethora of volunteers work hard to get nice things. And the nice things are among the amenities that have made the Coeur d’Alene metro area the fastest growing in Idaho.

To accommodate the growth — the area added 2,600 new, tourism-related jobs over the past five years including 800 new jobs last year — the city in 2018 engaged in several construction projects and it added a 47-acre riverfront parcel to its portfolio. The former Atlas Mill property will add revenue and provide public waterfront access to the Spokane River.

Widmyer highlighted the $4.5 million widening of Government Way, a major north-south thoroughfare, and a $5.4 million project to improve east-to-west Seltice Way that added roundabouts, bike lanes and walking paths. Both projects worked hand in hand with neighboring municipalities.

The city completed major improvements to its parks and green spaces and added a $400,000 skate park as part of its upgraded Four Corners downtown project. It plans this year to refurbish the iconic Memorial Field grandstand, where Widmyer said he started playing ball as a kid in 1966.

“I spent many great days playing baseball at the old Memorial Field,” he said.

The field itself was rebuilt last year.

The city’s 2018 growth was reflected in permits issued and the dollars they generated: Single family building permits numbered 244 last year — about average, Widmyer said — and with an average permit value of $229,500 they generated $56 million. Multi-family permits numbered 23 with a total value of $29.8 million. A record $55.7 million was generated from 35 commercial permits, including the One Lakeside highrise project downtown, and the Staybridge Suites hotel in Riverstone.

Overall, Widmyer said, construction in Coeur d’Alene in 2018 was valued at a record $146 million.

Gynii Gilliam, President of the Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corp., said the area’s economy grew 13 percent to $5.4 billion over the past five years, accounting for almost 8 percent of the state’s economy.

“In the last two decades we’ve become more and more diversified, continuing to decrease our reliance on just one or two key industries,” Gilliam said.

The trend will likely continue as the area attracts aerospace and aviation, distribution and warehousing, information and technology and the health industry, she said.

Over the past five years the median household income has grown from $49,000 to $53,200, she said.

Hilary Anderson, the city’s planning director, reiterated that the popularity of the area, spurred by the community’s many amenities, has prompted 12 percent growth in a two-year period. To accomodate, her department is working on a master plan and an East Sherman revitalization project. It’s looking for funding opportunities and addressing a plethora of zoning code amendments.

Council members Kiki Miller and Amy Evans drew attention to the completion last year of a four-story downtown parking garage, a new library program (the public use of the library at Lake City High), expansion of the city’s compost plant, as well as water and wastewater plant improvements and cutting-edge programs by city police and fire that will continue to ensure a safe community.

The amenities — including 2018’s new public art projects — are part of a community that works as a team, Evans said.

And that’s the idea, she added, and a good thing to take away.

“Let’s all leave the woodpile higher than we found it,” she said.

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