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Tourism guru tells Magic Valley leaders it's all about your downtown

BURLEY — Downtowns shouldn’t be places where you only go to buy socks, says Roger Brooks, a traveling tourism consultant. They should be places to eat, hear some music and maybe see a show.

And they should be a city’s top priority for development.

Brooks gave a rapid-fire presentation to regional economic development leaders Thursday at the Best Western Plus Burley Inn and Convention Center as part of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization’s annual summit.

His emphasis on downtowns should sound familiar to communities like Twin Falls, which just finished a downtown revitalization project, and Burley, Rupert and Gooding, where leaders have downtown projects in the works or at least at the top of their priority lists. But even a thriving downtown isn’t enough to put a community on the map, Brooks says. Communities need to have an identity, too.

A city needs to find what makes it unique and a desirable destination and then sell it. “Branding is what sets you apart,” Brooks said.

A former tour manager for major rock acts, Brooks stumbled into tourism and economic development when he got asked to develop the Whistler ski area into a world-class resort. He did, and went on to work on more than a thousand projects in the United States and abroad. Now he travels the world counseling communities and economic development groups large and small.

Here’s some of his advice and other words of wisdom from the summit:

On downtowns

Money spent on beautification projects and streetscapes aren’t enough. Good downtowns don’t just look good, Brooks said, they have shops, restaurants and public spaces where people want to spend time.

The country has reached a tipping point where the focus is on three places: home, work and a hangout downtown. That means, Brooks says, downtowns also have to have businesses that stay open from 4 to 9 p.m., the prime hours people want to use those types of spaces.

Creating that authentic downtown where locals like to hang out also becomes a tourist destination.

Younger generations are more focused on quality of life, making outside pedestrian-friendly spaces like pavilion markets and plazas highly desirable, Brooks said.

Cities with successful downtowns have closed streets, created smaller streets and wider sidewalks, or created types of open-space market places that incorporate many ways to use the space. Occasional special events won’t fix downtown vacancies — a city must keep activities scheduled at least 250 days a year at the spaces.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH photos, TIMES-NEWS  

Roger Brooks, a tourism consultant, talks about creating a thriving downtown Thursday during the SIEDO Annual Summit 2017 at the Best Western Plus Burley Inn and Convention Center.

Some cities have revised restrictive ordinances to allow light manufacturing like canoe building to take place in public view, creating a point of attraction, Brooks said.

Laurie Welch Times-News / Photo courtesy of Wallace Keck  

A view from the City of Rocks in Cassia County

Borud said the state developed a nationally award winning marketing campaign titled “18 Summers,” that capitalizes on people’s desire to spend quality vacation time with their children, hoping to lure more people to the state.

On tourism

Tourism is the third largest industry in the state, bringing in $3.3 billion in 2015, said Matt Borud, a business development and marketing officer with the Idaho Department of Commerce and Tourism. There are 41,600 tourism employees in the state. Most Idaho tourists come from 11 Western states.

A tourism panel with Shawn Barigar, president and CEO of the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Curtis Hansen, manager of the Twin Falls Fairfield Inn and Suites, Diane Newman, general manager of the Best Western Plus Burley Inn and Convention Center and Charlie Creason, owner of the Drift Inn in Rupert, answered questions for the group on tourism.

The members on the panel agreed that the Magic Valley hasn’t completely become a destination yet.

“When people come to Rupert they are either lost or they want to come to a small town,” Creason said.

Many Rupert visitors are people who once lived there and return for a wedding or reunion.

The panel also offered suggestions to help increase tourism.

Barigar said having knowledgeable volunteers who know about the area at visitor centers — along with clerks at convenience stores and gas stations — can increase tourism and bring people back who don’t get to see or do everything they wanted the first time.

Newman said events like the Idaho Regatta, Spudman Triathlon and even the haunted mansions of Albion, have a large impact on tourism dollars. The trick will be to expand on those events.

The panel also addressed the perception of the hospitality industry offering low-paying jobs.

Creason said his front staff can make more than $20 an hour “on decent days.” The industry also provides many part-time jobs to people who may not want to work full time. Curtis said his company offers all of their employees benefits, which is not always found in every job.

The event was held in conjunction with the College of Southern Idaho and Business Plus, another regional economic development group along with Southern Idaho Tourism.

“We want people to feel empowered in economic development,” said Connie Stopher, SIEDO’s executive director. It takes a whole community to drive economic development. “And that’s what this summit is all about.”

Kimberly releases proposal for new school attendance zones

KIMBERLY — Kimberly’s new elementary school could be named after the Stricker family, and have the same colors and mascot as existing campuses.

A 15-member elementary transition committee presented recommendations at a community meeting Thursday night at Kimberly Middle School.

The big item of the night: Where Kimberly elementary schoolers will attend school starting in fall 2018.

Preparing for a second elementary school to open is a huge deal in Kimberly. It will alleviate crowding at the existing school — which has about 900 students — and it’s the first time school attendance zones will be used.

The proposal: The boundary is roughly along 3700 North and the train tracks. Students in north Kimberly would go to the new school and those south of that would go to the existing Kimberly Elementary School.

The committee considered six options for new elementary school zones. The top priority: “We wanted to maintain safety of our students,” chairman Tim Funk told about 40 meeting attendees.

The school board will likely make a final decision in December.

The transition committee — which includes community members, school employees and school trustees — has met since April. It presented to recommendations about school zones, names, colors and mascots to the school board last month.

Construction of the 50,000-square-foot new elementary school — with a $10.7 million price tag — has been underway since spring. The 10-acre campus is at the corner of Polk Street West and Emerald Drive North, east of Ballards Way subdivision.

Once the new school opens, remodeling will begin on the existing elementary school.

To create new elementary school attendance zones, the committee considered factors such as the number of students divided among the two schools, parity (socioeconomic status among students), not splitting up neighborhoods, traffic and future growth.

There’s a lot of growth within Kimberly, Funk said, and “looking into the future, we expect quite a bit more growth, actually, with some of the new subdivisions being developed.”

To get feedback on school names, colors and mascots, the Kimberly School District put out two surveys and about 650 people responded.

The transition committee discussed the results extensively, Funk said. “The bottom line is we put a lot of work into this.”

A name for the new elementary school has been a talking point at nearly every committee meeting, Funk said. “It was interesting – there were really strong feelings about this issue of the school name. They’ve been rather polarized as well.”

About 47 percent of survey respondents were in favor of “Kimberly Elementary School North,” but another large group didn’t rank it among their top choices at all.

The committee also considered names with a directional — such as north or south — and of people with significance to Kimberly.

The committee’s recommendation: Stricker Elementary School.

It’s a nod to the Stricker family. The historic Rock Creek Stage Station and Stricker Homesite is south of present-day Hansen.

Herman Stricker, a German emigrant, purchased the Rock Creek Store at the stage stop in 1877 along the old Oregon Trail.

On the Kimberly School District’s survey, Stricker Elementary received the strongest level of support across the board.

The recommendation is to keep the existing name of the current Kimberly Elementary School.

For school colors and a mascot, the majority of survey respondents said they wanted the same mascot (Bulldogs) and colors (red, white and black) for both elementary schools.

All three existing Kimberly schools share the same colors and mascot.

Meeting attendees asked questions about topics such as busing, where special education services will be housed and about renovating the existing elementary school.

They didn’t publicly express opinions about the recommendations, but were asked to fill out a four-question survey at the end of the meeting.

And there’s still time to weigh in before a final decision is made.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Brigham Young University’s Noteworthy a cappella ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Auditorium in Twin Falls. Tickets are $15 and are available at the CSI box office.

Francisco Kjolseth, ASSOCIATED PRESS  

This May 8 photo shows an aerial view of Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Environmentalists have sued the administration of President Donald Trump seeking to pry loose details of its plan to shrink some national monuments and open the protected areas to more resource development.


Minico wide receiver Francisco Paz celebrates after his team scores the first touchdown of the game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, during the 4A state semifinal game at Minico High School in Rupert.

Police: Twin Falls man stabs woman, charged with aggravated battery

TWIN FALLS — A 33-year-old man stabbed a woman multiple times Wednesday night, police said.

About 8:15 p.m., police were called to the 100 block of Quincy Street where they found a 28-year-old woman with multiple stab wounds to her head, neck and upper body. She was taken to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center for treatment.

Phillip M. Wolff was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Thursday afternoon, Wolff was in the jail, but jail staff said he had not been formally booked and was not set to be arraigned in court.

If convicted, aggravated battery is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A deadly weapon enhancement can add another 15 years to a sentence.

Big House victory for GOP tax plan; Senate fate unclear

WASHINGTON — Republicans rammed a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House on Thursday, edging toward the code's biggest rewrite in three decades and the first major legislative triumph for President Donald Trump and the GOP after 10 bumpy months of controlling government.

The mostly party-line 227-205 vote masked more ominous problems in the Senate. There, a similar package received a politically awkward verdict from nonpartisan congressional analysts showing it would eventually produce higher taxes for low- and middle-income earners but deliver deep reductions for those better off.

The Senate bill was approved late Thursday by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Senate on a party-line 14-12 vote. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But it adds a key feature not in the House version: repeal of the Affordable Care Act's requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. Elimination of the so-called individual mandate would add an estimated $338 billion in revenue over 10 years that the Senate tax-writers used for other tax cuts.

The Senate panel's vote came at the end of four days of often fierce partisan debate. It turned angrily personal for Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he railed against Democrats' accusations that the legislation was crafted to favor big corporations and the wealthy.

"I come from the poor people. And I've been working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance," Hatch insisted.

After the panel's approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, "For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way."

The analysts' problematic projections for the Senate bill came a day after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the first GOP senator to state opposition to the measure, saying it didn't cut levies enough for millions of partnerships and corporations. With at least five other Republican senators yet to declare support, the bill's fate is far from certain in a chamber the GOP controls by just 52-48.

Even so, Republicans are hoping to send a compromise bill for Trump to sign by Christmas.

"Now the ball is in the Senate's court," Vice President Mike Pence urged after the House vote.

Speaking at a conservative Tax Foundation dinner in Washington, Pence said, "The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they're going to be a challenge." But he added, "we're going to get it done" before the end of the year.

With this summer's crash of the GOP effort to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care law, Republicans see a successful tax effort as the best way to avert major losses in next year's congressional elections. House Republicans conceded they are watching the Senate warily.

"Political survival depends on us doing this," said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

The House plan and the Senate Finance bill would deliver the bulk of their tax reductions to businesses.

Each would cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 20 percent, while reducing personal rates for many taxpayers and erasing or shrinking deductions. Projected federal deficits would grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

As decades of Republicans have done before them, GOP lawmakers touted their tax cuts as a boon to families across all income lines and a boost for businesses, jobs and the entire country.

Democrats said the measure would disproportionately help the wealthy and mean tax increases for millions. Among other things, the House legislation would reduce and ultimately repeal the tax Americans pay on the largest inheritances, while the Senate would limit that levy to fewer estates.

Thirteen House Republicans — all but one from high-tax California, New York and New Jersey — voted "no" because the plan would erase tax deductions for state and local income and sales taxes and limit property tax deductions to $10,000. Defectors included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who said the measure would "hurt New Jersey families."

Trump traveled to the Capitol before the vote to give House Republicans a pep talk.

Besides Johnson, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the Senate plan would mean higher taxes beginning in 2021 for many families earning under $30,000 annually. By 2027, families making less than $75,000 would face tax boosts while those making more would enjoy cuts.

Republicans attributed the new figures to two provisions.

One would end the measure's personal tax cuts starting in 2026. The other would abolish the "Obamacare" requirement that people buy health coverage or pay tax penalties.

Eliminating those fines is expected to mean fewer people would obtain federally subsidized policies, and the tax analysts count a reduction in those subsidies as a tax increase. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027, making the provision a political risk for some lawmakers.

Ending the personal tax cuts for individuals in 2026, derided as a gimmick by Democrats, is designed to pare the bill's long-term costs to the Treasury. Legislation cannot boost budget deficits after 10 years if it is to qualify for Senate procedures that bar bill-killing filibusters.