By Shelby Rognstad
This article is the second installment of a four-part series through October describing my goals and priorities as mayor of Sandpoint. Those are: 1) Engage the public to address community concerns. 2) Improve the local economy. 3) Sustain quality of life for Sandpoint residents. 4) Keep Sandpoint affordable.
Priority #2: Improve the Local Economy
This week I will report on projects I’m involved with to spur economic vitality in our community. There is good news to report as commercial building vacancy rates have decreased significantly since the 2008 recession. Also, 2016 was nearly a record year in building permits issued. The unemployment rate for Bonner County is at 3.6 percent, which is the lowest rate since prior the recession. These indicators point to a strengthening economy.
Not surprisingly, much of this growth is driven by tourism. The city’s continued investments in parks and quality of life amenities fuel this growth. The new Watershed Crest Trail and Memorial Field are great examples of this. Conservation of recreational elements and natural space at the University of Idaho Boyer property are important components to be preserved in future development efforts.
What makes Sandpoint truly resilient, however, is that we have a broadly diversified economy. Manufacturing, aerospace and biomedical are growing sectors of the regional technology economy. To sustain this growth, we have to support adequate housing, workforce development and infrastructure.
There are several strategies we have already initiated to support our current economic growth. In 2012 Sandpoint completed city-wide zoning amendments which allow for greater density, greater housing options and greater affordability. The city cut its water and sewer hook-up fees by half to stimulate development and reduce new home cost. Currently we are facilitating a public engagement effort for the Comprehensive Plan Review. Our effort is to get you, our citizens, to consider a development proposal that could bring additional, higher density housing to undeveloped areas along Boyer Avenue. Collectively, these actions will accommodate a larger workforce and provide the housing it needs at an affordable cost. I encourage all who are interested to participate in the next workshop on Oct. 17.
High-speed internet may be the most significant investment the city is making to stimulate the economy. Over the last two years the city has developed a fiber backbone to facilitate expedited, high-speed internet service throughout the city and the region. The city, school district, county and other large firms are experiencing the benefits of this network today. Over the next couple years this network will be built out to homes and small businesses in Sandpoint and beyond so everyone can enjoy high speed connectivity.
Infrastructure also includes transportation, utilities and city facilities. Implementation of the 2012 Downtown Streets Plan has begun with traditional two-way traffic throughout the downtown core, calming traffic, improving access and increasing parking options. The sewer replacement work that is underway on First Avenue today replaces a failing sewer main and laterals within the right of way. The capstone on the downtown streets project is the Farmin’s Landing property between Bridge Street and the Panida. The goal with this project is to create a safe multi-modal connection between the pedestrian bridge and the bike path on Main Street while capturing and filtering storm water to prevent pollution in our lake. There will also be great opportunities to improve public accessibility to our waterfront and create a unique community gathering place which connects downtown to Sand Creek. These changes to the downtown core will dramatically improve its look, feel and function making it an even more attractive place to visit and do business.
I am motivated to continue promoting the interests of business in Sandpoint by investing in parks, quality of life and infrastructure as a proactive way to spur economic health and vitality. My city staff and I will continue to encourage public engagement in planning, strategizing and prioritizing our communities needs to ensure appropriate economic growth for everyone.
This series is in preparation for a new “Lunch With The Mayor” informal meeting to be held on the last Thursday of the month beginning Oct. 26, from 12-1 p.m. at the Cedar Street Bistro in the Cedar Street Bridge.