Final team advances to Phase 3 of downtown waterfront design competition

Council selects ‘Blue Necklace’ concept from GGLO-Bernardo Wills

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

One day after a panel of judges heard presentations from the three teams in Phase 2 of the city’s downtown waterfront design competition, the Sandpoint City Council voted unanimously at its regular Aug. 16 meeting to select a finalist that will proceed to Phase 3.

The team led by GGLO and Bernardo Wills came out on top with its concept — referred to in shorthand as “The Blue Necklace” — envisioning redevelopment occurring in Sandpoint based on the concept of a “uniting thread that ties together the many jewels of Sandpoint,” from the Granary District to City Beach, with numerous avenues of connectivity for bikes, pedestrians, vehicles and watercraft with an emphasis on natural vegetation and “rewilding.” 

“I am thankful we chose GGLO because I felt like it was the most local feel,” said Councilor Joel Aispuro. “There is a lot of fear of change … at least this picture was more of what we have now.”

A slide from GGLO-Bernardo Wills’ design concept for the downtown waterfront redevelopment, depicting the area immediately south of Cedar Street Bridge. Courtesy photo.

The team selected included Mark Sindell, Josiah Brown and Amanda Jesser of Boise-based GGLO; Dell Hatch and Julia Culp of Spokane-based Bernardo Wills; Phil Boyd and Matt Gillis, of Welch Comer, based in Coeur d’Alene; ecologist Erin Plue; artist Sarah Thompson Moore; and Professor Greg Möller, who teaches at University of Idaho and Washington State University.

Don Stastny, a Portland, Ore.-based architect and master planner with whom the city contracted to manage the competition, told councilors, “You have a small city here, but it’s got a big-city mind,” pointing to the complexity of the issues facing Sandpoint as it works to ensure livability while maintaining its values.

“I have been at this a while, and I don’t think I’ve seen another competition that’s as challenging but could be as rewarding to a small community,” he said. “You have a wonderful, wonderful place here, and my hope is that through this competition we will make it a better place if not for the people who are here, but for the children and grandchildren who will grow up here.”

Among the design elements in the GGLO-Bernardo Wills plan include expanding Farmin Park to accommodate an “event corridor” on Oak Street leading to Main Street and into an “arts and culture district” on Second Avenue near a new mixed-use development and a public parking structure at the current Sandpoint city parking lot. 

A new intersection at First Avenue and Bridge Street would enable angled street parking to the south and a First Avenue “gateway” with sculptural elements and signage pointing the way to downtown and City Beach.

Mixed-use development is envisioned along the west bank of Sand Creek, though fronted with vegetative plantings to restore the riparian habitat. A terrace at Cedar Street would feature public space and plantings, along with the potential location for a small restaurant.

The most dramatic element of the team’s design featured a reconstructed bridge connecting First Avenue to City Beach with large vertical elements evoking a suspension structure, over which vehicles would travel while a second route beneath the roadway would be reserved for pedestrians.

The Carousel of Smiles would be located adjacent to the existing parking area on the east side of Sand Creek. 

At City Beach, the concept expands parking, moorage and launches for both motorized and non-motorized watercraft, and also proposes a nature playscape on the northern portion of the park with a nearby “ice ribbon/roller sports course.” The center of the park would be devoted to a “great lawn” with an event pavilion to the west; tennis and pickleball courts to the south; sand volleyball courts to the east; and a native pollinator meadow, community forest, picnic pavilions and native landscape plantings on the point to the southeast.

Officials emphasized that selecting GGLO-Bernardo Wills as the preferred plan for Phase 3 doesn’t mean an end to the process, but a beginning.

“The purpose of the downtown waterfront competition was to create a framework and a master plan for our downtown that pulled together all of our existing adopted plans into a coalesced holistic vision,” Stapleton said, later adding, “This gets us down to a team that will be doing this work with the community and with the city.”  

A survey conducted by the city, which only garnered a little more than 100 responses, also reflected an overall preference for GGLO-Bernardo Wills’ concepts. The general sense among commenters was that the submission best incorporated the feel of Sand Creek and City Beach while still proposing changes that would improve access to new and existing amenities. 

In particular, respondents supported the notion of “rewilding” portions of Sand Creek to benefit its riparian habitat while keeping the waterway open to boating. 

“It changes Sandpoint the least,” one commenter wrote.

Again, Stastny said the object of the competition wasn’t necessarily to set in stone a particular redevelopment plan, but to create an “operational manual” which can be taken apart “piece by piece, project by project, and move toward implementation.”

The design competition kicked off in late-February when the City Council voted to invite eligible teams to submit proposals for redevelopment of Sand Creek and City Beach, as well as inform the Comprehensive Plan update and future zoning and code changes.

Eight teams submitted plans and two other teams made it to Phase 2: one including Skylab, PLACE, KPFF, PAE & LUMA, Brightworks and ECONorthwest; and the other made up of First Forty Feet, Greenworks, Fehr & Peers, Century West Engineering and North Root Architecture.

The city budgeted $500,000 for the competition, including honorariums of $40,000 for each of the finalist teams. A further $40,000 will be awarded to the GGLO-Bernardo Wills team upon completion of Phase 3.

A workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 6-Thursday, Sept. 7 with design team updates to the concept throughout the month. The team will present its updated vision to the jury the week of Oct. 9, which the public is invited to observe. The jury will then evaluate the plan and prepare a report, which will be reviewed and forwarded as a recommendation to the City Council.

Council is expected to take in a presentation of the completed plan at its Wednesday, Oct. 18 meeting, when the public will again have a chance to see what the team has produced. 

Councilors were enthused about the prospect of having a proposal in hand that they could present to private developers, as well as potentially leverage sources of funding.

“When you have a plan with an ambitious vision it makes it a whole lot easier to get that money,” said Councilor Jason Welker.

Councilor Andy Groat made an appeal for Sandpoint residents to embrace the conceptual nature of the plan and “rise above … some of the emotions that they may feel with the changes, the growth, the maturity of their small town.”

Councilor Justin Dick, who admitted to some hesitation at the beginning of the competition, said, “If we as a community come together … we have an opportunity to do something very, very amazing in our little town.”

Council President Kate McAlister agreed, adding, “This is an opportunity for us to control the change, participate in the change, rather than have change happen to us.”

“I like change,” she added. “I think change is good if it’s done right, if it’s controlled, it’s done with the community.”

Find the GGLO-Bernardo Wills plan — as well as the other teams’ concepts — in addition to videos of the Aug. 15 presentations, survey results, schedule and more at

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