A quarter-block of land behind the historic J.C. Fox building, shared by the Hailey Public Library and City Hall, could become the city’s long-sought town square with continued public support.
To gauge enthusiasm for the potential acquisition of the site—116 S. River Street—and gather design ideas, the City Council held an outdoor workshop Tuesday in the alleyway between the library and Copy & Print, which currently resides on the site. Nearly 60 residents gathered in the shade, helping themselves to provided sodas and seltzer water. Landscape architects Chase Gouley and Ben Young from Ben Young Landscape Architects kicked off the meeting with a simple message: All ideas were welcome.
“The intent of this meeting is to throw out big, wild, crazy ideas, no judgment. We want to hear about the kinds of spaces you guys have in mind,” Gouley said. “And if there’s something bugging you, we’d love to hear that, too.”
One vision presented by the pair was a remodel of the alleyway between Croy and Bullion streets into a “green” pedestrian plaza. The corridor, which is relatively quiet and shielded from Main Street traffic, could use the alley’s existing trees to its benefit, they said. New canopy areas or umbrellas could supplement the existing shade.
Gouley said other communal spaces could be built to the west of the pedestrian walkway. One suggested gathering space was a rectangular, “sunken” lawn feature outlined by a seat wall and surrounding benches. The lawn would lead to an existing city-owned parking area on the north side of Copy & Print, he said.
“We could create the lawn area with perhaps synthetic turf. It could become an event stage, anything. In the winter, it could become an outdoor ice rink,” he said. “Of course, those are just some precedent design ideas, fun concepts to help picture what this could look like.”
A second concept presented Tuesday was extending the pedestrian plaza to the Lago Azul restaurant, or even as far as the former Croy Street Exchange building site. That could be done by narrowing Croy Street, planting large trees and expanding the Copy & Print building, Gouley said.
As far as possible site amenities, two large posters outside the library depicted a variety of options. Those included an event stage, amphitheater seating, shaded café seating, temporary or permanent art exhibits, a learning garden and a shallow, fountain-type water feature. The posters also had blank space for write-ins.
All participants were given six colored dot stickers to vote on their favorite amenities.
“This is exciting. We’ve been trying to get a town square for such a long time, and it’s heartwarming that we might be able to [build it] here,” business owner Jane Drussel said before voting. “My heart is twittering.”
City nears commitment deadline
Hailey officials have about a month left to decide whether to buy the River Street parcel. On June 21, Mayor Martha Burke signed a $950,000 purchase and sale agreement for the property with seller Ted Pierson and listing agent James Kuehn of Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties. The parcel was previously listed for $1.1 million.
City Administrator Heather Dawson explained on Tuesday that the city has had a decades-long interest in the property, but owners were not interested in selling until now. Last month, Pierson agreed to a 60-day “free look period” that will allow the city to think through the viability of such a purchase, she said.
“If we hear from you that you don’t want this property, we are going to exit that agreement with no penalties, no harm, no foul,” Dawson told the crowd. “But if we sense the energy to go forward, we’ll be talking with the seller further.”
Mike McKenna, director of the Chamber of Hailey & the Wood River Valley, said the parcel’s market debut was “a dream come true” and “a wonderful opportunity to fall into our laps.”
“This is an awesome location. Most businesses on this [west] side of town love when we do community events here,” he said. “I’m pretty positive the city will hear support from them.”
McKenna also suggested keeping the alleyway open for food trucks and other vendors.
“You mean the guys who steal all of our business?” one restaurant owner quipped.
Prior to the vote-by-sticker, concerns and ideas were pitched to Gouley, Young and Burke. One woman asked if the city had already reached out to restaurant neighbors about the potential land acquisition; Burke responded that the first step in land-use planning is collecting public comment during city meetings.
Another woman asked why the city couldn’t build a town square behind the Old County Courthouse.
“That is county-owned land around the courthouse. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s not ours,” Burke said. “We’ve already looked at that seriously. The purchase price for the property makes it impossible.”
According to a recent report from Dawson, the estimated cost of constructing a town square—excluding the cost of land acquisition—is around $1.6 million.
Gouley encouraged the audience to think about their favorite downtown areas or town squares and what aspects made them special.
“Boulder’s Pearl Street has amazing green spaces, for example, restaurant seating spilling out and tons of families out and about,” he said. “Hailey could do better. Well, now we have the opportunity.”
Council President Kaz Thea looked to Ketchum as an example.
“I don’t mean to compare us to them, but when Ketchum built their town square, it completely changed their trajectory. Everyone uses that space to meet up now,” she said.
Young agreed but said Ketchum’s town square could “use a lot more shade.” It’s high time that Hailey builds a new plaza, he said.
“Our town is growing; you can feel the influx,” he said. “The drive here from Ketchum today was almost as bad as it was around 2000 or 2001.”
Councilmembers will reconvene at City Hall on Monday, July 26, at 5:30 p.m. to go over the public input and “votes” received during Tuesday’s meeting.