Coeur d’Alene’s business leaders, city officials and event organizers have made the final preparations for Memorial Day weekend, the first big tourist event of the summer.
“Any time there’s a holiday like this,” Downtown Association Manager Terry Cooper explained, “and you have people with three or even four days off, they’ll want to take the opportunity to go somewhere. They’ll drive four or five hours and stay for a short holiday. It’s an important financial moment for the area.”
Cooper said he expected an influx of 5,000 to 6,000 visitors to the area for the weekend. Local leaders have coordinated to create easy access in the downtown district, providing tourists and locals alike what officials deem is an abundance of free parking.
“There’s more than 1,200 parking spaces in the downtown core alone,” Cooper said. “Of those, 250 in East McEuen by City Hall are free with no time limit. On the streets, we have about 900 slots for free for the first two hours and about 300 in the new garage for free for the first two hours. There are plenty of places for visitors to come and enjoy downtown.”
City Administrator Troy Tymesen agreed, emphasizing that 1,230 of the city’s 2,100-plus parking spots are free in one form or another. A recent decision to raise parking fees after the first two hours in some premier lots like Independence Point and the newly-constructed $7.3 million parking garage has sparked controversy among some local residents, but Tymesen said the advantages far outweigh the cost adjustments.
“When you build a $7 million facility and charge a dollar after the first three hours,” he said, “it’s a bargain. We believe it’s a very good investment.”
Tymesen and Cooper said those who choose to pay can find convenience in Call To Pay, an app that lets visitors pay directly from their smartphone.
For those who live life on the go, Mark Robitaille, Manager of the Coeur d’Alene Conventions and Visitors Bureau, added that — in addition to hard copies of brochures and information at the Visitors Center at 105 N. First Street — people can also visit coeurdalene.org for digital delivery.
“Our job at the Conventions and Visitors Bureau,” Robitaille said, “and it’s really the job of everyone who lives here, is to make Coeur d’Alene a place people love to visit. We’re here to get them here, to get them to stay, to get them to stay longer, and to get them to come back. This weekend is an important time for us...It’s really the unofficial kickoff to summer.”
The rainy weather Friday cast momentary doom and gloom for city leaders, but the forecast calls for clearer skies on Monday.
“How does the quote go?” Robitaille said. “‘There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.’ That said, there are a lot of indoor options, too. People can visit our shops, our restaurants, breweries, wine bars and tasting rooms, art galleries and more. Coeur d’Alene Cruises will be running three times a day every day. There’s so much to do here, even if they come just for the view.”
The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the Visitors Bureau, is also preparing for those who visit, fall in love with the area and decide to stay.
“We’re handing out relocation guides like popcorn,” said Teree Taylor, the Chamber’s director of communications. “We can’t print enough of them. For people looking to come here, I don’t think they realize how much information is in these guides. We have information about schools, public safety information, city services, vital statistics, everything someone would need to move here.”
While early Sunday mornings are usually quieter downtown, today’s Cd’A Marathon will bring 1,277 participants and their supporters to McEuen Park, where the race begins and finishes. The event is expected to give the area a strong economic boost.
“Whenever you get 1,000 to 1,500 people coming in, you get a great economic benefit to restaurants, hotels and stores,” Cooper said. “Supporters of their friends or family in the race go walking downtown. Coffee shops get a big boost from them. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
Tabitha Kraack, executive director of the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation and chief organizer of the marathon, said volunteers are prepared for a robust event, featuring maximum participants but minimum disruption.
“We won’t be shutting down any streets,” she said. “There’s great parking at McEuen Park, with the first two hours free. Since the race starts so early [with start times beginning at 5:30 a.m.], it’ll be completed by 1 p.m., so the afternoon parking will be much easier for people. The race is pretty much contained to the Centennial Trail, so we won’t have to divert traffic anywhere.”
Kraack added that locals’ travel habits make tourism the area’s weekend priority.
“I think with Memorial Day, plenty of people who live here go camping or go out of town,” she said. “It’s really important for us to bring in tourism over this weekend. It’s a great opportunity for our hotels, restaurants and shops.”