May 10, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 19

Downtown group OK with sale of 2 school lots

Downtown Revitalization Committee members agreed April 30 that recent action by the Haines Borough Planning Commission to classify two westward former school lots for sale jibes with its request for green space there.

Group chair Lenise Henderson Fontenot said the action was not inconsistent with the group’s recommendation to maintain part of the old school property for green space and sell some of the smaller parcels for commercial use.

“It doesn’t step on any of our toes, as far as I can see,” Henderson Fontenot said.

The possibility of borough ownership of Main Street was mentioned at the meeting, but was not discussed. Owning Main Street, or a section of it, would allow the borough to establish its own street design, such as wider sidewalks. The state Department of Transportation owns the thoroughfare through the town’s commercial district.

“If we’re not going to own our Main Street, this town square idea is really needed,” Henderson Fontenot said. There’s a desire for flexibility on the empty lots because no firm plans have been proposed for their use, she said.

Brenda Jones volunteered to head up a committee to promote a “town square,” saying its development is critical to downtown commerce.

At the urging of shop owner Kristine Harder, the group agreed to write the borough, asking leaders not to eliminate language for an economic development director. Retaining the wording would allow the borough to resurrect the position in the event a good candidate is found, members said.

“Downtown revitalization has a lot to do with economic development… Just because that job hasn’t worked in the past doesn’t mean having that position is wrong. Economic development is a major factor in our community right now. It has to be dealt with in some way,” Henderson Fontenot said.

A problem with the job may be the perception of it, she said. “It’s a hard-to-understand position because, in a lot of ways, it’s a marketing position. Marketing is networking and socializing and to a lot of people that looks like play.”

The group will submit to the borough a list of recommended improvements to downtown public amenities, including asking for more trash cans on Main Street. Member Dave Pahl hailed recent painting of the orca totem at the firehall as an example of downtown revitalization. “That’s the kind of thing we need to reward.”

A few members expressed concerns about upcoming paving of Main Street and possible disturbance of business. The group also discussed whether the town should host another “festival” to draw visitors downtown, held either in August or October.