Changes in store for Sandpoint’s City Beach
By Abigail Thorpe
Since City Beach was first formed almost 100 years ago in 1922 on land donated by the Northern Pacific Railroad, the waterfront land has served as a community gathering place for families, visitors and locals alike.
Improvements in the 1950s served to create a more welcoming and usable spot, without the flooding that early years saw in the area, and over the years, City Beach has become a popular spot cherished by locals and enjoyed by visitors. On any sunny summer day, its waterfront is filled with families and individuals enjoying the lake and grassy open spaces.
While changes have gradually been made over the years, there has never been a master plan to help determine how to best utilize the space. A brand-new Master Plan introduced by the City plans to change that. The new project—part of a master plan that includes future design changes for City Beach, War Memorial Field, the Downtown Waterfront and Travers/Centennial/Great Northern Sports Complex—centers around a goal of maximizing the value of the waterfront for public use.
The City Beach Concept Plan is shaped around five design principles and community values the City looks to honor: maintaining the park as a community gathering space, maximizing the waterfront for public use, connecting the park with other recreation and downtown activities, repurposing underutilized areas, and contributing to the economic vitality of the city.
The Master Plan was no small undertaking. The City of Sandpoint went through a year-long planning process that involved members of the community and local and city organizations before it went before the City Council and was approved this past September.
The City wanted to make sure that any Master Plan was a reflection not only of the City’s growing needs, but also of residents’ and visitors’ desires. With that in mind, a random sample survey was sent to various Sandpoint households, and an open online survey was available for those who wanted to contribute their input, including those from surrounding areas who actively use Sandpoint’s amenities. The City held several workshops and focus groups, and did key stakeholder interviews, in order to drive the vision of the Master Plan.
“What we are most proud of and excited about is that we have developed a vision through community involvement and as a city organization, and we have a commitment that we will deliver what we say we are going to do,” says Jennifer Stapleton, Sandpoint city administrator.
The Master Plan is the first in the City’s history, and was designed to look to the future in creating public spaces that allow people to enjoy the incredible beauty and community of Sandpoint. With this in mind, the plan was created to provide a concept and goal, with the funding and actual implementation of the plan to follow.
“Once you have a vision and a concept, it allows people to think beyond what currently exists and buy into that vision and what something could be,” explains Stapleton. The concept was developed around a visioning exercise rather than a specific dollar amount or ceiling cap in order to create a long-term vision that wasn’t restricted by dollars.
“A question was asked in the survey about how people would like to see us accomplish this, and public/private partnership for funding was overwhelmingly supported,” she adds.
As the vision develops, the City will look to grants, assistance from outside organizations and nonprofits, private donors and additional revenue streams to help fund the projects as time, support and demand allow.
One of the first steps in the plan for City Beach involves a land swap between the City of Sandpoint and the Cox family for the property that currently serves as the RV park in exchange for the grassy area currently in front of the Edgewater Resort.
The exchange, which is currently in the works, will allow for the city boat launch to be realigned and moved to the waterfront area the RV park currently occupies, allowing for more boat moorage, increased public access to the waterfront, and increased safety and ease, since the launch will no longer compete with other activities taking place in the area.
As part of the process, the RV park will move into City ownership and serve as a revenue source until the design and construction of the boat launch is completed, which the city hopes to do in the next two to three years.
The Edgewater hotel anticipates a tear down and reconstruction of the iconic hotel and restaurant starting in September, with plans to rebuild and double the size of the resort.
Further plans for City Beach involve a connecting boardwalk that runs under the train bridge and byway to connect the downtown waterfront side with the City Beach side, as well as a larger playground with a splash pad, and increased parking for boats and vehicles.
“All of us who live in this area and enjoy City Beach appreciate the challenges of parking and accessing down there in peak summertime,” says Stapleton. As development and growth in the area continues, coupled with an increased demand for outdoor activities due to COVID, the City has been even more motivated to prioritize parks and recreation projects.
Down the road, the Master Plan also calls for a large performance structure and activity pad on the western side of the park that would accommodate concerts and performances, and even serve seasonally as basketball courts or other court games. The hardscape surface could also serve as an ice rink during winter months, providing an additional activity for the community. The area directly east would be further opened up to allow for a viewing space, which would become the largest uninterrupted open space within the park, forming a central green with views eastward to the lake.
The Master Plan is driven by a long-term vision that includes the already greatly improved War Memorial Field, City Beach, the Downtown Waterfront and Travers/Centennial/Great Northern Sports Complex, which means it will take effort, time and careful planning to accomplish.
“As we’re thinking about how we launch this, we have to be thinking about it as a whole, because what we don’t want to do is take away a use in one park until we get that use to another park,” explains Stapleton.
Phasing is likely to occur across multiple parks simultaneously, as the Master Plan takes shape over 10 to 15 years, which is a lofty goal. The City specifically approached the Master Plan in this way in order to be driven by a long-term shared vision that would accommodate growth and development as well as city needs for years to come, rather than being product driven.
“We as a city, under the guidance of elected officials, intentionally went about engaging the community, developing long-term shared visions and leveraging our dollars in a way that would extend beyond a specific elected official or group of elected officials,” says Stapleton. “It’s a pathway to the future for Sandpoint.”