In December 2005 the mill was closed due to decreasing demand of high quality wood as the popularity of vinyl siding and composite decking became more popular. Some 120 employees worked at the mill, and Coeur d’Alene experienced a significant loss of living wage jobs.
The property was eventually purchased by a private corporation, Bad Axe, LLC, and has remained vacant for the last 12 years, despite numerous developers showing interest in potential acquisition.
In 2014 the City of Coeur d’Alene acquired two miles of former railroad right-of-way from BNSF Railway, which runs through this property. That City land starts in the Riverstone Development and extends to Huetter Road. It varies in width from 60 to 200 feet. The former rail line connected each of the historic mill sites in the area to transport lumber products, and the City acquired the property to create parkland and a trail corridor.
The City Council approved moving forward with purchase of the Atlas Mill property in September 2017. The financial transaction will officially close in May 2018.
During the project that began in 2013, more than 3,000 area residents provided input that helped build a long-term vision for Coeur d’Alene – adopted by the City Council in 2014 – that called for additional public waterfront access and placed a high priority on public park space.
The City Council also formed a temporary Spokane River Corridor Advisory Committee in 2013 to review and recommend options for community use and access in the Spokane River corridor from Huetter Road in to Riverstone. The City Council adopted a resolution based on the advisory committee’s work stating that “all city staff and staff actions regarding the Spokane River Corridor should consider maximizing the public acquisition of riverfront property, protecting the riverfront and providing comprehensive planning for this corridor.”
This is likely the last parcel of waterfront the City has the opportunity to acquire for public use.
Several years ago the City also acquired former BNSF Railway, Co. right-of-way that runs through this property, intended to be used as a trail.
The CDA 2030 Vision also calls for a focus on economic development initiatives. In the document, the community saw a future where Coeur d’Alene is “known for its proactive, innovative business climate, with supportive regulations, essential infrastructure, and available land for development.”
This property provides an opportunity for the City to directly achieve the vision of our community members both in increasing public waterfront access and creating jobs.
City officials have learned that several factors discouraged these developers from moving forward, including:
· Whether the City will support annexation of the property into the city limits, which would allow for Coeur d’Alene water and sewer utilities to be extended to the property. Without municipal utilities, the property cannot be properly developed. When the City considers annexation of property it reviews many issues, including appropriate zoning (meaning what and how much could be built there), the types of public amenities that might be included, what types of infrastructure might be required, how annexation meets the vision of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and more. Review of those issues is an important part of responsible planning when property is potentially brought into the community.
· Because the City owns former railroad right-of-way through the property, interested parties have been concerned as to whether the City will allow access through its property. The City has maintained that its property will be used for public benefit – including parkland and trails. While the City has been amenable to a balanced approach to waterfront property access, developers have perhaps sought larger concessions, including significant land swaps, which may not serve public purpose.
· Because it is a former mill site, the property has log waste buried in some areas. This may require a significant financial investment, to make it suitable for construction of buildings. Interested purchasers have worked on creative ideas to address removal of the waste, or planned development in that area of the property that wouldn’t require removal, but an absolute solution was not found based on their individual plans for the property.
· With potentially significant grading and filling of the site required to address topography issues, adequate funding for new streets and underground utilities on the property poses a challenge.
· Because of its prior uses and proximity to water, resources may be available to aid remediation of the site to the City that aren’t to other developers.
· The City is focused on increasing public waterfront access. With limited, if any, other opportunities, the City is committed to working through these development issues for the public benefit.
City officials also hope to work with the Coeur d’Alene Economic Development Council (formerly known as Jobs Plus) to help recruit businesses that may want to partner on this project as well.
The City will rely on professional financial feasibility study to determine what other, if any, organizations or partners may become involved.
The City and ignite CDA are working hand-in-hand to finalize appropriate plans for the urban renewal agency to pay back those funds over a certain period of time through potential economic development initiatives.
The analysis will help the community and Coeur d’Alene officials better understand how economic development and public waterfront access can be accomplished together.