Sunday, October 02, 2022

Chamber eyes community connection

Staff Writer | July 22, 2022 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — When the Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber’s new downtown home opened in 2007, the goal was to attract 40,000 to 50,000 visitors a year.

In 2008, about 28,000 people stopped in for information about the area. That was the high point.

Visitors to the modern building across from Independence Point, with views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, have declined steadily since. Last year, it was fewer than 9,000.

Chamber President and CEO Linda Coppess knew that had to change. Wednesday, she and board chair Rick Rasmussen outlined a proposal to reverse that trend to the ignite cda board by using the site for public and private events.

“I just started looking and observing and watching this and thinking this is the most beautiful office space and the most beautiful building in our city,” Coppess said.

The plan gained the much-needed financial support to the tune of $263,000 from ignite cda, the city’s urban renewal agency.

The funds will be used for chamber site upgrades and additions, including a community information digital display board, ADA compliant public restrooms, patio furniture, landscaping and repairs to outside walls.

Ignite cda board member Dan English said it’s a good investment. He liked the idea of both businesses and nonprofits being able to utilize the building.

“I think that's a great way to develop community engagement,” he said.

Coppess said there's "a huge opportunity" to make the building a focal point of activity, while Rasmussen said it could become a showcase that boosts community engagement and economic development.

It could host business fairs and conferences. Art exhibits and private parties could be held there. Offices could be rented. Nonprofits could be given space for fundraisers.

“There are so many different ideas on how we can bring people and utilize this incredible building that is a great selling point, a great asset in our area," Coppess said

She said the patio is underutilized, but could become a popular hangout with decor and Wi-Fi access, perhaps music some nights.

“Imagine if we opened that up to the public,” Coppess said.

Ignite cda’s board unanimously agreed it was a good idea and approved a request from the chamber to reimburse it $263,000 of an original Disposition and Development Agreement signed in 2008.

Then, ignite cda and the chamber entered into a DDA for $300,000.

The chamber agreed to pay that amount for public improvements at the site. Ignite cda said it would reimburse the chamber the $300,000 over time as property taxes paid by the chamber were realized by the agency.

Since, ignite cda executive director Tony Berns said the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners granted the chamber a “significant annual property tax exemption.”

“As a result, the Chamber has not generated sufficient property taxes to obtain significant reimbursement for their initial costs of the public improvements,” Berns wrote.

The current DDA balance is $263,273.

Ignite cda’s board agreed to provide that money to the chamber so it could pay for the planned improvements, which are estimated to cost from $227,000 to $263,000.

Coppess said with ignite cda's help, “we will be able to work together to reimagine this beautiful space so that it may once again become a bustling community hub that drives tourism, community, authentic relationships, economic development and business prosperity across our beloved region.”

Ignite cda board member Steve Widmyer agreed. He said their proposal for use of the money would “directly have public benefit.”

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