Riverstone development in Coeur d’Alene hitting stride | 03/27/2013
    By Scott Maben, The Spokesman-Review

It takes a brisk pace to keep up with John Stone as he ducks in and out of new stores at Riverstone, his live/work/shop/play community built on former industrial land in Coeur d’Alene.

Working his way down Main Street toward the 14-screen Regal Cinemas, the developer shows off a hair salon, a nail salon, a tanning business, a sports memorabilia shop and a fitness class space decorated with graffiti-style murals. Across the street, work is nearly done on Bullman’s Wood Fired Pizza, which will bring the number of Riverstone eateries to eight.

“We’ve done 30,000 square feet of new retail here” in a little over a year, Stone said.

How has he accomplished it? “Just magic,” he said, smiling. “It just happens.”

After more than a decade of setbacks and stalled progress, the 155-acre development at the Lake City’s front door is springing to life with new shops and restaurants, hundreds of residents and plans to build out the west end with apartment buildings, a regional transit center and possibly a new indoor sports arena for North Idaho College.

Riverstone Rising

There’s also serious talk of adding a technology discovery center for kids and families, and finding a new home for the 90-year-old carousel that once spun fun at Playland Pier on Lake Coeur d’Alene. And community speculation about when specialty grocer Trader Joe’s will land here never seems to fade.

Stone, who turns 70 next month, is making the final brush strokes on his masterpiece. Riverstone is a patchwork of investors and owners now, but he is the one driving the vision to completion.

Stone estimates the total investment in his “town within a town” is nearing $300 million, but he still can’t claim a profit on the venture.

“I’m approaching the time I can say I got out alive,” he quipped on a recent tour. “We’d have to do some magical things to make a profit, but that isn’t how you measure everything in life. I’m just happy I was able to do this.”

Twenty acres of project remain to be developed

From his office near the park and pond he built and gave to the city, Stone sees his planned community growing busier by the day. More people walk and run the trails, more kids play in the park, and more visitors shop and dine out across the way.

The Centennial Trail wends through the property on its way south toward Coeur d’Alene’s higher education corridor, downtown and lakefront. Another trail takes off from here and connects with the popular Salvation Army Kroc Center, the Ramsey ballfields and park, and points north.

Stone’s vision for a “lifestyle center,” where people can walk to everything they need to live comfortably, has not changed. “It’s just a place to go to spend some time,” said the Gonzaga University graduate, who launched his career developing mini-storage projects.

Riverstone will be home to 800 people within a year, he estimates. About the same number of people work in offices, shops and other businesses within the development. All 132 condominiums perched above storefronts are occupied by full-time or part-time residents, and construction will begin this spring on a 40-unit apartment building, with another 140 units soon to follow.

After the land sales Riverstone has under contract now, only about 20 acres remain to be developed.

“This year it’s going to look like the rebuild of World War II out here,” Stone said. “It’s going to be really busy.”

In the Village at Riverstone, the retail heart of the development, vacant space is going fast. A large empty corner on Main Street could be divided into six units, and businesses ranging from a wine shop to a kitchen store might move in this year, Stone said.

“It will be full by August,” he predicted.

Down the way, a 360 Fitness gym is getting ready to open this spring. And next to that, a half-dozen grocers have looked at a 25,000-square-foot space originally built for Barnes & Noble before the bookseller backed out of a lease agreement in late 2008.

“I think things are turning,” said Chris Schreiber, a broker with Kiemle & Hagood, which handles retail space in the buildings that make up the village as well as office space and land elsewhere in Riverstone. “I think this summer is going to be pretty fantastic for those retailers down there.”

“It’s one of the nicest, newest projects in our market, and it’s building more and more of a reputation as a destination,” Schreiber added.

Jennifer Rea moved her gift and home décor shop, Daisy J’s Trading Company, to Riverstone last August. It gave her more space and brought in new customers who overlooked her shop when it was downtown the past five years.

Rea also lives at Riverstone above the stores, and her red-headed daughters, ages 4 and 1, are familiar faces in her shop. She said the momentum on Main Street surprises visitors who haven’t been down lately.

“People kind of hibernate for the first quarter around here, so they come out in March and they’re just blown away and excited about all of the new changes and tenants coming in,” she said.

A series of store openings suggests the slack years following the recession may be ending. “I think people are regaining confidence in the economy and feeling comfortable opening a small business and working for themselves again,” Rea said. “And this is such a premier location in our area.”

Storefronts of glass reignite lease interest

The former lumber mill and gravel pit between Interstate 90 and the Spokane River was an obvious choice for redevelopment when Stone and his partners in SRM Development took it on in 2000. It was at the first eastbound exit from Interstate 90, along the busy Northwest Boulevard thoroughfare, within a few blocks of the bustling medical district, next to where U.S. 95 crosses the river, and minutes from downtown.

But like developers everywhere learned, the decade ahead would be a turbulent ride.

“Nine-11 was pretty tough on us. Nothing happened for a year after that. People just stopped,” Stone said. “And then in 2008 we went through all that national trauma with the real estate market.”

The body blow of retail anchor Barnes & Noble bowing out prompted other national franchises to retreat from Riverstone. And lackluster sales of condos built to appeal to empty-nester baby boomers led to deeply discounted auctions in 2009 and 2010.

Lenders foreclosed on two of the three condo/retail buildings in the village in 2010, and the following year SRM deeded back to another lender the high-traffic movie theater and adjacent retail spaces that include several restaurants and a Starbucks.

It appeared Riverstone was unraveling well short of its completion. The project also was an easy target for critics of the city’s urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corporation, which pledged just over $9 million of public investment in the project.

The developer paid upfront for all those improvements, including development of the city park, and will be reimbursed over time from property taxes generated solely from the new commercial and residential buildings at Riverstone.

“The developer is on the hook, the public is not – no risk to the public, and we get a great project that is working,” said Tony Berns, the urban renewal agency’s executive director.

In December 2010, Stone parted ways with the firm he co-founded, Spokane-based SRM Development, and indicated he was ready for semiretirement while remaining involved in the completion of Riverstone.

He formed a new company, Riverstone Holdings LLC, to push the project toward completion. Then in January 2012, Idaho Retail, a company he co-owns, took back the two condo/retail buildings.

Soon after, Stone reignited interest in Riverstone, according to Schreiber, the broker.

“The first thing he did was spend quite a bit of money to do all those glass storefronts on Main Street,” he said.

Plywood had covered the windows of the vacant spaces – an eyesore that turned off prospective business owners.

“As soon as we started making that change, that’s when we started signing leases. I mean literally within days of people seeing activity,” Schreiber said.

Stone said he’s trying to create a shopping niche unlike anything else in the region. “The big national stores are in trouble and tough to deal with and everything,” he said. “So what I’m focusing on are regional and local stores, and that’s what I want here. I want ones that are really lifestyle things, that cater to the local communities. That’s my concept.”


Life on Vacation: Dive in to divine weather in Idaho | 10/06/2008
    By Larry Olmsted, Special for USA TODAY

Weather is not the first criterion most people consider when shopping for a vacation home, but maybe it should be. Weather is something that needs to be dealt with every single day — and in Coeur d'Alene, they deal with it by boating, biking, hiking and playing golf.

Winter is not a highlight, but the other three seasons are not only good, they're great. Almost every day from early spring to late fall is sunny and warm. It rarely rains, but droughts are no worry, thanks to ample winter snowpack in the mountains. Moreover, biting insects are remarkably absent, something virtually unheard of in lake communities.

"A lot of second-home owners come for the three seasons, and winter someplace else," says Sandi Bloem, mayor of Coeur d'Alene and owner of a downtown jewelry store. "We have plenty of sun, but no extremes, no hurricanes, no tornadoes, no bugs, but very clean air and very clean water.

"Second-home activity has definitely increased," she adds. "We've been discovered, I think, and I'm fourth-generation here."

Located in the panhandle of northwestern Idaho, just minutes from the Washington state border, Lake Coeur d'Alene resembles a small Lake Tahoe. But not too small. It's more than 25 miles long, 1 to 3 miles wide, with about 135 miles of shoreline.

The town of Coeur d'Alene sits at the northern end of the lake, a quaint village with a large downtown waterfront park, a few blocks of shops and restaurants, and the Coeur d'Alene Resort, a large complex of lakefront buildings, shops and marinas.

The rest of the lake is lined with homes, small coves boasting boat-accessed restaurants, large patches of undeveloped open space, and a few new golf-centric residential developments.

Like Minnesota or the shores of the Great Lakes, many lakefront properties are vacation cottages that have been in families for generations. Most of the second-home activity is in new homes and condos in town or in large developments.

A look at three Coeur d'Alene neighborhoods:

Downtown. The heart of Coeur d'Alene is small but features a mix of properties. Older cottages and small homes sell for as little as $165,000. New, larger townhouses sell in the mid- to high $300,000s. And condos in the luxurious 30-unit lakefront Terraces building run from $3.4 million (unfinished) to $5.9 million (finished and furnished).

Black Rock. The premier residential development outside of town, Black Rock (blackrockidaho.com), is a full-service, second-home community where most residents come for the entire summer. It is anchored by a golf course that was rated by Golf Digest as the best new course in the nation when it opened three years ago; a second course by Tom Weiskopf opens next summer. Other facilities include a children's club, tennis, equestrian center, marina and two clubhouses. The community encompasses 1,800 acres and has 726 home-sites planned, with about 200 built and occupied. Lots run from $150,000 to $2.5 million. Finished, two- to four-bedroom homes go for $850,000 to $1.25 million.

Bellerive. Coeur d'Alene's newest waterfront community, Bellerive (belleriveidaho.com), is on the edge of town, and mixes in-town and lakefront lifestyles. The development has a blend of residences and commercial space, including shops and restaurants. The 70 residential units include condos, lofts and single-family houses, priced from the $400,000s to about $1.5 million.


Report: Cd'A great place to buy 'right now' | 09/22/2008
    Magazine lists Lake City among top five in U.S. for second home, investment

By BILL BULEY Monday, Sep 22, 2008
Staff writer

COEUR d'ALENE -- Forget the reports of a slow real estate market in North Idaho. Throw out those charts of shrinking sales and declining prices. What you should do, according to a story in the new issue of the Robb Report Vacation Homes that comes out today, is buy a house in Coeur d'Alene. Right here, right now.

The story in the October/November issue results from research that investigated more than 50 international locations before narrowing it down to "Ten great places where the best time to buy is now." "The results of this research pointed to three distinct sectors within the global real estate market: places that are perennially strong; those that have yet to peak and are seemingly undiscovered; and those that offer investment opportunities because their values have dropped," says Robb Report Vacation Homes Senior Editor Samantha Brooks in a press release. The five U.S.-based locations identified by the editors of Robb Report Vacation Homes are Las Vegas, Miami, Aspen, Maui and, yes, Coeur d'Alene.

"We're in good company," said Jonathan Coe, president and general manager of the Coeur d'Alene Area Chamber of Commerce, He cited two reasons for Coeur d'Alene's continued national recognition -- it was featured in USA Today on Sept. 5 -- as a great place to own a second home. "All the marketing and hard work are paying off," he said. "And we've been discovered out there by a broad range of people looking for a second place to live. We now have here in our community a terrific second home product."

The international locations identified by Robb Report Vacation Homes as best places to buy are Abu Dhabi, Belize, Croatia, Curacao, and St. Kitts and Nevis. The Robb Report Vacation Homes describes itself as "the authoritative resource for ultra-affluent homeowners, buyers and sellers. The magazine addresses the unique needs and interests of this audience with comprehensive coverage of the world's most exquisite and sought-after vacation properties."

The article on Coeur d'Alene points out Idaho's thriving economy due to growth in technology, tourism and construction, Coeur d'Alene's natural beauty and recreational activities, and a median price of $250,000 for a single-family home in northern Kootenai County as a rock solid combination. It also highlights the Club at Black Rock, a 650-acre property overlooking Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Mayor Sandi Bloem said she's not surprised another national organization's spotlight has fallen on Coeur d'Alene. "I think why is pretty evident. We all love it here," she said. Bloem said the local economy is strong and Coeur d'Alene is gaining a reputation as a good place to do business. While the increase in attention can help promote growth, it can also create challenges as more people buy a second home here, she said. "We have to make sure we reach out and engage the new people so we continue the sense of community we've had in the past," Bloem said. "People say they like it here for the people. It's important we do our best to make sure it stays that way."

Kim Cooper, spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors, said there are many reasons for the Robb Report focusing on Coeur d'Alene, including the area's medical field. "People moving to the area know they will be well cared for," he said. He also said the real estate in Coeur d'Alene is some of the most affordable in the West and unemployment is lower than in neighboring states. The benefits of being in the Robb Report, Cooper said, are many. It gives Coeur d'Alene more exposure, which combined with the USA Today article earlier this month, "gives us momentum that attributes to our real estate prices maintaining their integrity where other markets with nothing but cityscapes, traffic and pollution are falling." "The scenic beauty of our geography is memorable to visitors and when they return home, they are excited to spread the word," he said.


Coeur d’Alene ranks No.2 in best-performing small cities | 09/12/2008
    POSTED: 11:02 MDT Friday, September 12, 2008
by IBR Staff Report

In a study that ranked 125 small cities, the Milken Institute placed Coeur d’Alene as the No. 2 best performer. The study, released this week, looked at wage and salary growth, job growth and high-tech sector growth. Coeur d’Alene rose from a No. 6 ranking last year, surpassing last year’s No. 1 small city, Bend, Ore. This year’s best-performing small city was Midland, Texas.

The study reported Coeur d’Alene outperformed the national average in job and wage growth (rising 18.8 and 21.8 percent, respectively, between 2002 and 2007). It cited the growth in the tourism industry as an engine of growth, adding 1,800 new jobs in 2007, and called the area an emerging health-care hub.

The study also ranked the best-performing large metro areas. Boise came in at No. 27, falling from its No. 19 finish last year. Its negative job growth between March 2007 and March 2008 (down 1.65 percent), placed it in the bottom 10 of the 200 metro areas in that category. Boise performed well in the one-year wage growth category – ranking No. 2 – though it didn’t do as well in the five-year wage growth category – it fell to No. 28.

The top three best-performing large metro areas were Provo-Orem, Utah; Raleigh-Cary, N.C.; and Salt Lake City.

Where Are the Best Cities to Do Business? | 07/01/2008
    Our comprehensive annual guide to which places are thriving -- even in an economy many consider in recession.

By: Joel Kotkin and Michael Shires

Published July 2008

What a difference a year and a deflated housing bubble makes. Inc.com's 2008 list of the Best Cities for Doing Business, created in conjunction with Newgeography.com, uncovered some of the most dramatic changes since we started this ranking back in 2004. Five major trends were immediately revealed; trends that are shaping the business environment right now across the country and will continue to over the next several years.

The list focuses on short- and long-term job growth. It tells us precisely not just where jobs are being created -- a sure sign of economic vitality -- but where the momentum is shifting. For entrepreneurs, this suggests what may be the best places to locate or expand your business.

The Pacific Northwest-Intermountain West Surge Continues

Like last year, the northwestern quarter of the country did very well. Three of the top 11 big metro areas in the region between the foggy West Coast and the high mountains, including Salt Lake City (No. 3), Seattle (No. 10) and Portland, Ore. (No. 11), all gained ground. This ascendancy was even more evident at the midsize level, with the success of cities such as Provo-Orem, Utah (No. 1); Tacoma, Wash. (No. 2); Ogden, Utah (No. 8); Boise, Idaho (No. 12); and Spokane, Wash. (No. 14). Small cities, including St. George, Utah (No. 2), Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (No. 3), Bend, Ore. (No. 7) and Grand Junction, Colo. (No. 9), also saw gains.

In many ways, the gains here parallel those in the Carolinas. Places like Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Portland, according to the Praxis Strategy Group analysis, all continue to gain educated residents from other parts of the country. The lure, in many cases, lies with strong and diverse job growth and low housing prices compared to coastal California and the Northeast.

Seattle continued its strong growth, notes economist Paul Sommers, due largely to the success of two companies -- Microsoft and Boeing. These companies have been expanding, providing high-wage jobs, and attracting skilled talent to the area. Another key advantage in this high energy cost environment: the Northwest's prodigious supplies of cheap and clean hydroelectric power. This helps everyone, from people building airplane parts to dot-com firms sucking copious amounts of electricity to run their servers.

Some of the other areas in this vast region benefit from what might be called "grey power." Older, often more educated and affluent, baby boomers are flocking to the smaller towns and cities in this region, bringing capital and, in some cases, entrepreneurial know-how. Like the Carolinas, the area between the foggy Pacific Coast and the Rockies seems poised for sustained growth.

Inc.com: Top Cities For Doing Business in America 2008 - Best Locations for Growth

Kirkland's new | 06/27/2008

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June Newsletter | 06/24/2008
    Click on the link to view our June Newsletter.

Sheltered from the Storm | 05/01/2008
    Consultant says cities like Coeur d'Alene, Olympia are well-positioned to weather a national recession.

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Riverstone Developer wins NAHB award for Merrill Gardens | 12/10/2007
    July 17, 2007
Merrill Gardens wins NAHB award


Runberg Architecture Group of Seattle won a silver award from the National Association of Home Builders 50+ Housing Council for having a “best of the best” project in the 50-and-over senior housing category. The award was for Merrill Gardens at Queen Anne at 800 and 805 Fourth Ave. N., an assisted-living community designed to create a safe, communal environment. It was the only entrant from Washington to receive one of 87 awards. Merrill Gardens LLC was the contractor. Merrill Gardens is built on a tight urban site with two heritage elm trees, which the building's design incorporated and preserved. The design draws from local architectural styles and includes gabled roofs, wood brackets, wood trellises and wide windows. The seven structures are connected by pedestrian bridges around a grand courtyard that opens to the Queen Anne neighborhood. The corridors have resting spaces that assist in orientation and are lit by natural light. Exposed wood columns and beams delineate programmatic areas, along with low planters and differentiated floor treatments. Parking is below-grade. The NAHB 50+ Council presents gold and silver awards in 58 categories nationally. For more information about the awards, see www.nahb.org/50plushousingawards.

Riverstone Trolley Preview | 09/20/2007
    In just a few short months the condos will be complete and residents will begin moving into the Village at Riverstone. The Village of Riverstone plans to use the trolley system to transport people down Northwest Boulevard to downtown Coeur d’Alene and back to Riverstone. The route has not yet been set, but it should go through downtown and near to the library. The Trolley system is expected to be operational next spring time and run through the summer.

The trolley system has been a success in other cities and soon will be for Coeur d’Alene.

Click below to see a new preview of the Riverstone Trolley.

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Developer Foresees Big Future | 07/27/2007
    John Stone, Developer of Riverstone, Foresees Riverstone Park.

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Couer d'Alene Trolley on KREM | 06/22/2007
    Couer d'Alene Trolley on KREM

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Couer d'Alene Trolley on KHQ | 06/22/2007
    Couer d'Alene Trolley on KHQ

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CdA trolley could connect development, downtown | 06/13/2007
    Coeur d'Alene may get a rubber-tired trolley this summer to haul people between the Riverstone development and downtown – a 3.2 mile loop that could decrease traffic, provide relief from skyrocketing gas prices and make the city more accessible.
"It's really important when you think about lifestyle," Riverstone developer John Stone said. "You don't have to get in the car. That's the whole purpose."

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Renewal changing face of CdA | 06/13/2007
    Ten years ago, Coeur d’Alene’s downtown was drifting into decay. Behind a brave front of decorative streetlights, storefronts stood empty and brick facades crumbled. Merchants complained about lackluster sales and graffiti.

To the north, boarded-up buildings dotted Coeur d’Alene’s midtown district.

To the west, a vacant sawmill site along the Spokane River sprouted brilliant blooms of purple knapweed.

Concerned city leaders formed an urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corp. Its goal was straightforward: Use public dollars to attract private investment to Coeur d’Alene’s stagnant core.

A decade later, the agency has committed nearly $18 million to projects. And the long-awaited private development has arrived.

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SRM Development selected as a finalist in the 2007 Best of 50+ Housing Awards! | 06/05/2007
    SRM Development's Merril Queen Anne Assisted Living Building has been selected as a finalist for the National Homebuilders Association 2007 Best of 50+ Housing Award. The development will be featured at the Awards Gala in Denver, CO as well as the International Builder's Show in Orlando, FL.