Department Head
Mayor Brian Blad

Department Address
911 N. 7th Ave
Pocatello, ID 83201
234-6163
 
 
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CITY OF POCATELLO WEEKLY OP-ED ARTICLES

 

LOOKING BACK ON 25 YEARS OF COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Planning and Development Services Department

by Lee Ann Dutton
February 14, 2011


First, one of my favorite expressions: "There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit." As I've been preparing for my life's next chapter, my memory banks have been rewinding nearly a quarter century of community development accomplishments. And I, for one, can bear witness to the truthfulness of that statement. Much indeed has been accomplished at the hands of many selfless citizens, community leaders, five different mayors, and dedicated, talented, and visionary city employees. The power of partnering and the compounding effect of leveraging have been a wonder to behold as spots of blight have been transforming into bright spots across the valley floor.


Working within the larger framework of the Planning Department and then the community as whole, our division's focus has been revitalizing and re-tooling the older residential and commercial areas of our fair city...returning vitality and pride to the heart of our city, primarily through the use of federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds known as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). CDBG funding specifics can be found at: www.pocatello.us under Planning/Neighborhood Services.


Another favorite expression: "Success is the sum of many small efforts." Steadfast, incremental improvement and growth has been the key to Pocatello's resilience and rebirth. As we recognize what is great and good about our community—and value its past while shaping the future—we retain that elusive "sense of place" that so many other communities have lost. Now, may I share just a few of the small (and not so small) efforts and accomplishments that I have witnessed:


The historic preservation movement—spurred by the demolition of the Bannock Hotel—was just a year old in 1986. National Register Districts now dot the City. Preservation efforts have led to great things in Old Town and throughout the City. A successful Business Improvement District campaign in 1991 led to the formation of Old Town Pocatello. The Chief Theatre Restoration (though suffering an untimely demise in 1993) also brought downtown revitalization to the forefront. CDBG block grants facilitated not only Simplot Square, the Breezeway, and many parking lot improvements but also an ongoing Facade Improvement Loan Program that has helped over thirty commercial building owners with exterior renovations.


The historic Carnegie Library was transformed into the Marshall Public Library, bringing families back to the City's west side. In addition to hosting a multitude of community events and private receptions, the Standrod House (in public ownership from 1976 to 1996) provided countless school children with a chance to tour a true architectural treasure up close and personal. Upper-floor housing began a comeback. A downtown Post Office in the Pioneer Block Building at the corner of Main & Center was established (and later saved by a grassroots campaign). First Security Bank (now Wells Fargo) built a preservation-sensitive, two-story office building at Bonneville & Main—the first commercial construction in Old Town in decades.


Trolley passengers again disembarked at the Greyhound Bus Depot and were charmed by its art-deco, neon sign (one of only two in the nation). Using the old Oregon Short Line/City Creek water supply easement, the downtown reach of the Portneuf Greenway was established. A historic calendar series entitled “ Old Friends Are Worth Keeping ” was produced (with illustrations by Jim Jenkins) to raise community awareness of Pocatello's architectural treasures. The community rallied to save Pocatello High School and renovate it for generations of students to come. The Warehouse District rebounded with the Museum of Clean, The Idaho Food Bank, Kinport Junction, and many other new businesses.


The introduction of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to the Idaho Legislature by a Pocatello Planning Director back in 1988 led to economic development successes that will pay dividends to Pocatello's tax base for generations to come. For one, Old Town's streetscape with its safer sidewalks, vintage lights, and flowering trees was brought to life by TIF financing. CDBG has fueled some economic development activity of its own, for instance the Idaho State University Research Park and, more recently, the Triangle Redevelopment Area.


Hand-in-hand with the preservation of what is right and good in our community, must be the ongoing removal of "blight"—a cancerous decay that destroys an otherwise healthy environment. Whether it's been the Triangle's "Volkswagen graveyard" or a tumble-down, death trap of a “shack” in a residential neighborhood, replacing "blight with bright" has been a mainstay of CDBG's work. Just as neglect and blight are contagious and lead to neighborhood crime and decline, so also can its opposites—care and investment—contribute to its recovery.


Another mainstay of our work has been the preservation of Pocatello's affordable housing stock and its remarkable historic neighborhoods. Along with leaders in Pocatello's financial community, City staff caught the vision and secured one of the last charters with NeighborWorks America in 1993. I and another City Planner, Steve Ernst, had the honor of serving on the first Board of Directors for Pocatello Neighborhood Housing Services (PNHS). CDBG dollars even assisted PNHS in rescuing their present office, the historic Eagle Building on North Arthur Avenue, from the wrecking ball. Oh, what changes PNHS has undertaken in the Central Neighborhoods of our city....slowly, but surely, the old cycles of disinvestment have been broken, and they are once again neighborhoods of choice!


While CDBG may have provided the spark, the inferno of reinvestment that has swept the valley's floor (despite the nation's housing crisis) has largely been fueled by non-public funding and renewed code enforcement. Dedicated neighborhood leaders have identified many revitalization projects through the years—park improvements, identification signs, sidewalk projects, blight removal sites, and one of my personal favorites, the Lasting Legacy Landmark on North 3rd Avenue within the Triangle project.


Joining the City and PNHS in tackling the safe and affordable housing needs of Pocatellans has been Gateway Habitat for Humanity, SEICAA, and even Bannock County's Juvenile Justice Program. At last count, over 70 blighted or vacant residential sites had been acquired and over 130 affordable new homes have been built, some by high school students learning a trade. Residential redevelopment efforts have increased the former tax base on those acquired parcels by over 700% or $6.5 million. Another 325 homes have been fully rehabilitated or provided with emergency repair assistance—further adding to the tax base. While low to moderate income homeowners have been the primary beneficiaries of this work, one cannot underestimate the value of the construction jobs that have been generated over the years nor the economic ripples within the building supply and financial/real estate community.


Finally, CDBG has assisted with some needs of our most vulnerable citizens. In addition to administering an Emergency Repair Program for lower income homeowners, the City has from time-to-time funded improvement projects at the Aid for Friends homeless shelter, the Bonneville Community/Senior Center, assisted with Meals on Wheels, Family Services Alliance, job training, respite care, fair housing educational forums, and Bannock Youth Foundation's Square One that houses homeless youth. Working through the Southeast Idaho Homeless and Housing Coalition (which includes representatives of nineteen different public agencies and non-profit organizations), we continue to coordinate and collaborate on both housing and homeless population issues.


Neighbor by neighbor, home by home, building by building, block by block, and job after job—this community is reinventing itself. It has not been the path of least resistance, but courage, determination, and a steady hand have made Pocatello the envy of much larger communities in the Pacific Northwest. We have discovered the power in partnering. We have learned to leverage precious dollars, created the necessary tools, and envisioned how to replace blight with bright—all while retaining our sense of place! Through the years, our team's accomplishments have been recognized with many planning awards and accolades, but I personally find a quiet satisfaction and hope in knowing that Pocatello will enjoy unlimited future success (marked by continued small efforts) as long as it truly doesn't matter who (or what) gets the credit.

 

 

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