Ketchum has one. Boise has one. Now Hailey could also have a town square of its own. City leaders are seeking public comment this month on where it should be located and what amenities it should offer.
Roger Brooks, the keynote speaker at Sun Valley Economic Development’s annual Economic Summit, held Tuesday, stressed the importance of downtown commercial centers. Brooks said the most successful American downtowns are becoming more European, with walking plazas and a heavy emphasis on pedestrian experiences.
A reliance on automobiles and devoting important real estate for parking are things of the past, he said. The new standard should be narrower streets and wider sidewalks.
Two public workshops are scheduled this month to take comments on preferred sites for the Hailey town square.
The Hailey Community Development Department will then take a few months to design the programs and specific amenities for the favored site. The last phase of planning will involve cost estimates and funding allocation for the project.
“Residents and business owners are invited to attend one of the two workshops scheduled to help assess which site is best relative to the surrounding points of interest, traffic circulation and parking patterns, key crossings or intersections, and sun/shade or other environmental elements,” states a news release from the city.
In 2015, a consultant working with the city identified 12 potential sites from River Street to First Avenue in a 10-block downtown area. Only 134 of Hailey’s 8,000 residents and business owners responded to a survey and questionnaire on the topic at that time. Thirty-three survey respondents took part in a series of workshops at City Hall to determine which amenities would befit a central civic gathering place.
The top-ranked preferred amenities are benches, bike racks, summer shade, tables, a drinking fountain and a Christmas tree.
On Oct. 1, the City Council stated a preference to locate the town square between the Hailey Hotel and the Hailey Public Library on Croy Street, the top-ranked site in a survey from 2015. Alternative sites include an area between the Sun Valley Brewery and Christopher and Co. on Carbonate Street, and vacant land north of Sturtos sports store on the west side of Main Street.
“If someone has a better idea for a location, now is the time to present it,” Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said at a City Council meeting in late October.
Brooks said cities have to be willing to sacrifice parking. He said it’s a myth that removing parking spots will kill businesses. Downtowns should also provide clean public restrooms, he said.
Brooks said plazas should have year-round programming and activities such as music, performers, ping-pong tables, bocce ball courts or group yoga.
“Your plaza should be an incubator for local small businesses,” he said. “What’s coming to America is year-round, programmed public plazas. They are simple spaces. A plaza doesn’t have to be expensive. The secret sauce is programming.”
Brooks said the downtowns in Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue need to have their own niches, while operating under the umbrella brand of Sun Valley.