Downtown Sandpoint, ID laments possible business loss-Bonner County may relocate offices away from central district

SANDPOINT — The Sandpoint Business Association is worried that relocating Bonner County offices to the Federal Building will weaken the heart of downtown.

Coeur d’Alene Press

The group has given the county commission a letter listing nearly a dozen concerns it wants addressed as the county contemplates moving certain offices to the Federal Building near the city’s western outskirts.

Topping the list is the fact that county workers are an important customer base for downtown restaurants and businesses. On any given work day, the people at the courthouse are the same people who are strolling down First Avenue on their lunch breaks.

Having the county seat downtown creates pedestrian traffic instead of vehicle traffic, since people can conduct business at the courthouse and then complete other errands downtown without having to drive as much. The SBA also worries moving county offices to the Federal Building will increase traffic in an area occupied by homes and schools.

Moreover, keeping government offices and other public services in a downtown area is effective in warding off disjointed sprawl, the SBA says.

"As the heart of the community, downtown should be home to government, arts, churches and financial institutions," the SBA’s board of directors said in the letter, which was received by the county on Jan. 29.

Copies of the letter were also sent to Idaho’s state and federal delegation.
The SBA did not respond to requests for additional comment on its position.

The county’s acquisition of the Federal Building is far from a done deal. It literally requires an act of Congress. However, the county has been discussing the move for about two years and federal legislation is already in the pipeline.
Some wonder why the SBA, which was formally known as the Downtown Sandpoint Business Association, waited so long to take a position on the issue.

"I was under the impression this was pretty far along already," said Sandpoint Councilman Francis Ogilvie. "It might be a little to far into the process for the DSBA to be giving them a letter at this time."

The county is still trying to figure out how to best affect the purchase of the Federal Building. It’s owned by the General Services Administration, but the county is trying to have it turned over to the U.S. Forest Service, which has offices in the building.

Once in the Forest Service’s hands, the county could purchase the building outright, or it could build new offices for the Sandpoint Ranger District and trade them for the Federal Building, which has an estimated value of up to $1.6 million.

Senator Larry Craig has introduced legislation to transfer ownership of the building from the GSA to the Forest Service. The legislation was tacked onto a federal appropriations bill, but county Commission Chairman Jerry Clemons said it is now a piece of stand-alone legislation, which could increase its chances of passing.

Federal appropriations bills are notorious for their pork and thus more likely to be picked apart or defeated, Clemons said.

Clemons acknowledges the importance of county offices to downtown, but does not expect the impacts of moving them to be devastating. The courts will stay put, and the prosecutor and public defender offices will move into the courthouse. By his count, moving all offices not related to the court system amounts to 29 less employees working downtown.

"It’s not a huge impact to the city," said Clemons.

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