Downtown Lewiston has the potential to thrive

Downtown Lewiston has the potential to thrive

The following article was published in the Wednesday, January 23, 2019, Lewiston Tribune in response to the preceding week’s media coverage of the Downtown Master Plan Design Charrettes. Click here for additional information about the Lewiston Downtown Master Plan. 

Downtown Lewiston has the potential to thrive

By Courtney Kramer, Executive Director for Beautiful Downtown Lewiston Revitalization Corporation 

We caught some flak when last Monday’s Lewiston Downtown Master Plan presentation included an image of a glass elevator between Pioneer Park and the F Street public parking lot.

To be clear: We’re not proposing the construction of a glass elevator.

The image was included in a discussion about the lack of an accessible connection for people walking between Main Street and Normal Hill. The 90-foot vertical bluff is enough of a barrier that, as one of the 142 community members who participated in last week’s presentations put it, “Once you leave the hospital and get in your car, you may as well go anywhere else in town.”

Downtown businesses lose customers when it’s easier for people to leave the area entirely than walk four blocks from Normal Hill to Main Street.

Lewiston has all the ingredients for a thriving downtown. Our iconic setting at the confluence of two major rivers gives us incredible access to recreation. A legacy of century-old, family-owned independent businesses anchors our historic commercial district. Recently renovated buildings have filled quickly with new independently-owned shops and sold-out residential units.

But downtown revitalization doesn’t just happen organically. It takes planning and persistence and transformative leadership. We have a waterfront to rival Sandpoint or Coeur d’Alene and a wine industry that will grow to be akin to Walla Walla’s. It’s up to our community to make downtown Lewiston awesome.

Beautiful Downtown Lewiston Revitalization Corporation is leading the development of a Master Plan for downtown Lewiston because we want to accelerate the neighborhood’s resurgence. We need a strategy that identifies opportunities to further strengthen the downtown economy and attract additional private investment to the neighborhood.

Downtown Lewiston is a resilient economic engine that powers job and wage growth in our community. Led by St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and Lewis-Clark State College, greater downtown Lewiston employs 6,000 people within a 10-minute walk of Main Street. Jobs in the area grew at over twice the Lewis Clark Valley average between 2010 and 2015.

The urban atmosphere of downtown Lewiston attracts younger employees and residents at a pace five times faster than the rest of the Lewis Clark Valley. A high proportion of these employees receive mid- to upper-level wages earlier in their careers.

Reinvestment in downtown Lewiston has proven a solid return on investment for our local tax base.

In 2005, the City and Nez Perce County worked together to establish the Downtown Urban Renewal Area. At the time the area had a taxable value of $3.5 million dollars. Thanks to private investment and property value increases, the same area is now valued at $35 million dollars. The increased taxable value gives the Urban Renewal Agency the opportunity to pay off the debt acquired in 2012 that paid for the reconstruction of 1st and 5th Streets in 2022 instead of 2027, saving the taxpayers an estimated $500,000 in interest payments.

Early bond repayment also means that $500,000 per year in annual taxes paid by downtown property owners will flow to the City of Lewiston, Nez Perce County, the Port of Lewiston, and the Lewiston School District in 2023—a $2.5 million-dollar difference of funding over five years.

In other words, thanks to private investment in downtown Lewiston, we’re paying off the mortgage on our streets, sewer lines, water lines, and stormwater lines early and freeing up money to invest in services, critical infrastructure, and education five years earlier than anticipated.

The Lewiston Downtown Master Plan will enable private and public agencies to plan their investments in the neighborhood. This will include building on downtown Lewiston’s strengths by improving access to the waterfront, leveraging our proximity to residents and employees within walking distance of Main Street, continuing to recruit independently owned businesses to fill recently rehabilitated commercial spaces, activating public spaces with quality events, and supporting mixed-use development on underutilized parcels in the area.

We all benefit from a thriving downtown Lewiston. We hope you’ll join us in providing the catalytic leadership necessary to make the Lewiston Downtown Master Plan a turning point in the revitalization of our region’s historic commercial core.