The Lewiston City Council gave its enthusiastic support Monday to a new master plan that guides the redevelopment of the historic downtown district after the document got a full-throated endorsement from the people who work, live and play there.
The plan’s primary goal is to stimulate investment in the historic downtown core, and several people who commented during the council’s Monday night meeting expressed hope that incremental improvements over the last few years will soon snowball into something bigger.
“Downtown is at a catalytic phase, and it needs a blueprint for development,” said Vikky Ross of Moscow, who has bought and renovated several downtown buildings.
Main points addressed in the plan include improving access and wayfinding to the long stretches of waterfront blocked by the levee system. Recommendations like creating better signage and adding more amenities like lighting, benches and trash cans were hailed as a relatively inexpensive way to achieve better connectivity.
Another key is creating more residential options to expand one of the most successful trends downtown. Courtney Kramer, executive director of the Beautiful Downtown Lewiston economic development organization, said recent residential projects have proven to be so popular that the vacancy rate is near 0 percent.
Business owners said more people actually living downtown will give them a big boost. Megan Goforth, who owns food and beverage establishments Brava’s and Brock’s, said her customer base could use a shot in the arm.
“All we’re doing downtown is recycling the customers who come already,” Goforth said.
The plan recommended pushing for a large mixed-use development at the former Twin City Foods property, with ground-floor commercial buildings topped by apartments and condos. It targeted the vacant upper stories of existing historic buildings as ripe for residential development, as well as the many vacant lots on nearby Normal Hill.
Several people spoke in favor of expanding the art and culture offerings downtown, like members of the Liberty Theater Preservation Alliance who are trying to revive the defunct cinema on Main Street. The plan considers raising funds for such endeavors through an arts and culture district and an auditorium district.
Councilor Bob Blakey said the city should move forward as soon as possible on the auditorium district, which would charge a small per-bed fee to people who visit the city’s hotels and motels. He recently spent more than two weeks in hotels across the country during his summer travels, and said each town charged such a fee and put the money toward various projects.
Along those lines, the plan also contemplates a downtown improvement association that would work like a homeowners association, with property owners voluntarily paying into a fund that could be used for various projects.
Dodd Snodgrass, a Lewiston resident with 25 years experience in community and economic development, emphasized the plan’s focus on actually implementing its recommendations. He said the next steps should be identifying which community and government groups tackle each component, prioritizing that work and building budgets to get them done.
“It will just be shelf art if you don’t move it forward,” he told the council of the potential that the plan could end up collecting dust in someone’s office.
Councilor John Pernsteiner, who spent time on the plan’s steering committee, complimented the nearly two dozen people who came to the meeting to share their opinions.
“The last time that happened, I’m pretty sure we were jacking utility rates up,” he joked.
In other business, the council approved a liquor license for the Zany Graze restaurant at 2004 19th Ave. The Nez Perce County Commission previously approved the license. Until now, the business only had a license to sell beer and wine by the glass, but will now be able to offer hard alcohol.
Information about which business Zany Graze obtained the license wasn’t immediately available Monday night.
Mills may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2266.