It’s a story told by downtowns across the United States. As suburbs grow and shopping malls spring up, downtown areas that once were the center of a town’s life often fade. But in Southern Idaho, downtowns are back in business.
As residents look for attractive amenities, unique retail and dining options, and walkable neighborhoods, and businesses seek new places to launch and grow, increasingly they are drawn to once-neglected downtown areas. And cities are finding that breathing new life into old downtowns provides a much-needed shot in the arm for local economies.
“Place-making for every community is critical, and downtowns are a big part of that effort,” says Melinda Anderson, Twin Falls economic development director and director of its Urban Renewal Agency. “People understand that downtowns are the heart and soul of any community, and Twin Falls is no exception.”
Twin Falls Facelift
Anderson and her agency are overseeing an ambitious urban redevelopment effort that will dramatically remake downtown Twin Falls over the next few years. The $12.5 million project will include four major elements. Aging and inadequate water and sewer lines will be replaced. A five-block stretch of Main will receive new landscaping, streetlights, sidewalks, power and more. Wide sidewalks will accommodate outdoor dining, and some streets will be become “festival streets” that can be closed off for farmers markets, concerts and other public events.
A new public plaza, Downtown Commons, will be built on the site of the Rogerson Building, an historic but debilitated former hotel purchased by the URA and demolished. The plaza will feature a stage, concert seating, restrooms and a splash play area. And Hansen Street, now closed, will reopen to allow passage from Second Avenue East to Second Avenue South. Coordinating with the construction of these projects, the City of Twin Falls will build a new city hall across the street from the plaza.
“People are excited about the rebirth of Main Avenue,” Anderson says. “Having the new plaza especially will drive new development. So much going on in downtown Twin Falls is critical to the vitality of Twin Falls as a whole community. It doesn’t mean other neighborhoods aren’t important, but downtown is where Twin Falls started. Everything else grew from that.”
Rupert, Jerome, Burley, Buhl Dig In
Meanwhile, nearby Rupert was honored for the third time as ”Most Improved Downtown” for its ongoing efforts in the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization's area-wide Operation Facelift. The most recent one-day effort brought out 250 volunteers who painted, planted and cleaned up downtown Rupert properties such as a gym parking lot, Mad River Laser, a walking path, and Well House No. 1.
Jerome, Buhl and Burley are tackling their own downtown facelifts. In Jerome, new planter baskets decorate the streets, colorful flags welcome people to downtown and murals are planned for some downtown buildings, illustrating Jerome’s history. As part of its fledgling Main Street program, the city has launched popular new public events such as the Christmas in Jerome light parade, and movie nights in the park.
“We want to create more interest in the downtown area with beautification projects and events,” says Jerome chamber of commerce executive director Brandon Redmond. “And as we get more people visiting downtown, we hope to attract more tenants and businesses and bring more excitement to the downtown area.”