Portions of this interview were condensed for space and clarity.
Urban Renewal Agency Executive Director Nathan Murray hopes that the Main Avenue reconstruction will have a ripple effect that extends beyond simply improving the look of downtown Twin Falls. Reporter Heather Kennison sat with Murray inside of Twin Beans Coffee on Nov. 17 as he reflected on the project and its challenges.
Q: Did everything go as smoothly as you’d expected?
From the standpoint of the contractor that we had, I think Guho did an exceptional job. When you do work like this, there’s a lot of unknowns. From their experience, I think it went as well as they would have expected since they’ve done this before.
Obviously, our expectations at the city and also with the merchants, I think (they) would have liked to have been done earlier. If we could’ve done each block in a 60-day time period like we wanted, yeah that would’ve been ideal. But I think Guho knew better.
In the end, I think it went really well in terms of getting a really good quality product that we’re happy with. And it didn’t come in much later than we would’ve wanted.
Q: Why did it take longer than you’d planned?
A lot of it would be that a lot of the contractors that fulfilled this type of work had a lot of other demands on them as well. And there were a lot of projects going around the valley. And you think about just getting concrete and asphalt to different sites at different times … and having your electrical crews in a certain window to do the work before your next people can do their work is a really tight window. And then those contractors having those other jobs and timing is just a little bit of coordination. So if we’re off by three or four weeks, I think we did pretty good.
There were some other things, like in those first blocks, that took a lot longer. Just sort of getting staging up and ready, and there was a lot of rain in April and May that made it a little difficult. Maybe that’s like a week there. And then when we came through on this block and were filling in basements and we had to construct some additional walls, OK, maybe there was another week there that added onto the time. And then just the block as a whole, those days add up here and there.
Our original schedule was Nov. 4 for substantial completion.
Q: When should the downtown commons be underway?
They’re starting to bid on Dec. 1. And the designs have been a really difficult piece because, again, there’s been a lot of mechanical, coordinating with the neighboring wall, the utilities in that alley that are coming through. It’s almost like a street in of itself.
And now that we’re into weather, what people can expect is some construction activity that we can (do) over the winter, which will include the restroom facility and some of the underground work, work along the wall … between the commons and the adjacent business owner.
As soon as weather’s good, they’ll start their brick paving and completion of the splash pad in April-May. It’s anticipated that it’s going to be completed late spring.
Q: What can people expect to see at the downtown commons?
There’s obviously a restroom facility that has, on the back side of it, some seating. There’ll be seating in the plaza, a statue of John Hayes on the corner of Hansen and Main, which will be nice.
And then I guess a lot of the really interesting stuff is how it’s activated. It’s one thing to build a plaza that people can maybe gather in, but how you use it is probably more important. We would love to have the farmers market there, we would like to have the concert Twin Falls Tonight series there.
Communities all over the country have done lots of fun things. If you can have activities in that plaza 200-250 days a year, I think we’d be doing really well for ourselves, and that’s something we’d like to explore. And that would really help support downtown.
Q: What role do you think downtown plays in Twin Falls as the city grows?
It will be a key place to attract talent as we grow. I think that those people coming that are new to Twin Falls, that will probably be one of the first places they look at – the quality of the downtown. From that, I hope they get a sense of the quality of the city. And I think you can really tell a lot about how well a city’s doing economically by how vibrant its downtown is.
In a lot of cities, people think that “Oh, we need to redo our Main Street and that’ll bring vibrancy.” I think we’re redoing Main Street because it was already a vibrant place, and you had a lot of these early adopters – the restaurateurs and the shops – that took on a lot of risk and really did a lot of positive things and started to raise its profile. We were fortunate enough to come in and strengthen their investment by adding some of these other pieces like the wider sidewalks, improve that accessibility, and upgrading the utilities, which I hope will spur more investment.
… In the winter, we still anticipate putting out some sort of ice rink facility that we can use, adding to some activity in the plaza that makes it valuable. … It would be right over the splash pad area.
Q: Looking back on this process, is there anything you would have done differently?
I kind of came in after a lot of it was already designed and already being laid out … so I didn’t’ really know what I really know until after we started building. Since I wasn’t involved in the design process, I didn’t have a good perspective of why we were laying out some of the things we were and what kind of input from the community helped create that design.
Personally, I could’ve done a better job understanding that, going into it. I would’ve probably done a better job of talking to our designers about why they laid some of the things out, or maybe the thought process behind it.
For example, in front of Twin Beans we’ve got a seating area that’s built at grade level that people are parking on sometimes just because there’s no curb. We had to after-the-fact kind of plan and say “How do we make that safe for them?” Because it was intended to be a festival street with no curbing and fewer trip hazards, but the owner also wanted to have some seating out there. It kind of puts his patrons at risk if there’s no curb. … We have to put kind of planters and gating around the outside.
I guess if I could change anything, it would be thinking more about how people would behave with our new design, rather than just how it looked on paper.