Idaho Falls economy

A building under construction is seen along Park Avenue on Feb. 5. Many downtown buildings are undergoing renovations.

The Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation on Thursday held its annual state of downtown meeting.

Downtown Development Corp. Executive Director Catherine Smith and other city leaders reflected on the organization’s 2018 accomplishments, such as securing funding for streetscape improvements, completing public art projects and growing private development. And they told of the Downtown Development Corp.’s 2019 plans, including more art projects and downtown parking improvements.

The meeting, held at the ARTitorium on Broadway, featured presentations from Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, Community Development Services Director Brad Cramer and Lee Radford, chairman of the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency.

Casper said downtown should not be taken for granted, especially as standardized development, “where everybody wants the McDonald’s and the Starbucks and the big box stores,” grows in the United States.

“There are entire blocks or miles of roadway that can be interchanged from one community to the other and there’s nothing distinguishing or special about them,” Casper said. “Downtowns, like ours, that have gone through a preservation process and a revival process and they’re actively being worked on ... are what makes a community distinctive, they are what gives a community its personality.”

Last year, the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency awarded the Downtown Development Corp. a $945,000 grant for downtown streetscape and parking improvements.

The majority of the grant will fund new streetscape — sidewalk, curb, gutter, trees and planters — along West Broadway Street and on downtown street corners from Broadway to Constitution Way. Old planter boxes, which Smith calls the “dog poo” planter boxes because they’ve been a popular place for local dogs to defecate, will be removed and new taller and narrower pots will be installed.

The streetscape projects, which combined will cost about $870,000, should be completed by July 1, Smith said.

“There’s going to be more construction this year,” she said. “Bear with us. By 2021, we’ll only be doing art projects — fingers crossed.”

The remaining Redevelopment Agency grant money will fund new parking technology. The Downtown Development Corp., which is pushing hard this year to modernize and monetize downtown parking, will install meters in paid downtown parking lots.

The lots currently are paid, however the payment system — a paper stub that’s meant to either be validated by a downtown business or paid with cash and dropped in a box — relies heavily on the honor system.

While street parking will remain free — for now — there is now a second parking enforcement officer patrolling downtown streets and ticketing cars that park beyond the two-hour time limit. Previously, there was just one officer.

The Downtown Development Corp. launched a social media campaign to explain new rules as they come online and educate the public on where and when to park.

“We’re working really hard to be organized and clear on the methods to park downtown, where to park and how to park,” Smith said. “I hear people say that we don’t have parking or we have a parking issue, it really is more of an education issue.”

The Redevelopment Agency has nurtured economic growth downtown through tax increment financing, which helped bring The Broadway and the Bonneville developments. While the downtown urban renewal area will close this year, new businesses could be on their way, thanks to ongoing renovations of old buildings.

To that aim, Smith created a census-based online dashboard, highlighting population demographics, housing, transportation, cost-of-living and other statistics.

“It’s a very robust dashboard of economic information,” Smith said.

The information is meant to be a one-stop-shop data center for potential business-owners or residents thinking about moving to downtown Idaho Falls.

The Downtown Development Corp. also will fund three new downtown murals this year. A bid for proposal is out now for each of the murals.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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