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Players of the Panhandle

Your Friendly Hometown Real Estate Mogul

North Idaho has no shortage of real estate developers, but Marshall Chesrown is in a league by himself. Barely in his 50s (retired from the car dealership business since age 39), the self-made millionaire with a high school education lays claim to six high-end developments from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane, his hometown.

Foremost is the Club at Black Rock, which sits on about 600 acres of Coeur d’Alene lakefront property with a golf course and vacation homes. The Ridge at Sunup Bay, on 250 acres nearby, is a private development (residents also get memberships at the club).

Known as a charismatic straight-talker, Chesrown gets high marks from economic planners in Coeur d’Alene. Jonathan Coe, president and general manager of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, calls Chesrown a generous corporate citizen — giving to the arts and donating land for community use — and says his developments have helped buffer the area from economic slowdowns in the housing and construction markets.

Coe also says Black Rock has set a standard for other developers, and inspired similar projects. To those who worry that locals are being priced off the lakefront, Coe says it may seem counterintuitive, but more homes in the market actually lower median prices.

Stumping for Wilderness

Phil Hough has hiked trails in every Western state, canoed all 2,000 miles of the Yukon River, completed the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails and been an avid backpacker and angler since he can remember.

A resident of the Sandpoint area for the past six years, he’s president of Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, a group dedicated to winning congressional approval for an 88,000-acre proposed wilderness area on the Idaho-Montana border.

The effort enjoys local support, and Hough hopes the area can win wilderness designation soon after the dust settles from the presidential election.

The Scotchman Peaks wilderness will maintain the quality of life that attracts newcomers to the area and so will stimulate economic growth, Hough says, but his primary motivation is “for the good value that it brings to our planet.”

You Could be Governor, Young Man

People say Luke Malek will be Idaho’s governor someday.

In the four years since he graduated from Albertson College of Idaho in Caldwell, Malek worked for Sen. Larry Craig as a health care intern, ran the office for development and communications at the Dime Community Health Center in Coeur d’Alene, headed former Gov. Jim Risch’s North Idaho office and landed the directorship of the urban renewal agency in Post Falls, his hometown. He’s 26.

He doesn’t dwell on his resume but talks about how to build up Post Falls’ infrastructure and revitalize its downtown, now forlorn from a vacant mill site.

“I want to create a community that’s safe, and has reasonable infrastructure and is a good place to raise a family. This is my home. This is where I want my family to live,” he says.

It may seem contradictory for a conservative Republican, who says government improves as it shrinks, to lead a nonprofit community development agency. Malek doesn’t see it that way. His role is to foster private enterprise, he says.

As for his political ambitions, he acknowledges the gubernatorial talk. Someday he may run, he says, but not too soon. He wants to start a family first, and he doesn’t like the idea of counting on election results for a payday.

“I’m never going to run for office if I’m depending on an election to pay my mortgage,” he says.

Malek, the only staffer, has been at the agency about a year. He’s careful not to take a lot of credit. The biggest ongoing project is a $35 million research and manufacturing facility, which will produce an anti-allergen drug. Tax-increment financing will help pay for infrastructure and other basic services.

Preserving a Sense of Place

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem doesn’t consider herself a politican. In fact, city elections are nonpartisan races. It was zoning and planning and efforts to revitalize the town’s center — none of which seems the purview of one party or the other — that drew her into local government until, in 2000, running for mayor simply made sense.

“It seemed like the next thing for me to do,” Bloem says.

Over the past seven years, Bloem has tried to balance public good and private rights. It’s important to her that the longtime residents don’t pay more than their fair share of the costs associated with growth, and that growth doesn’t detract from the town’s sense of place in Coeur d’Alene.

“For us, Coeur d’Alene has always had a strong sense of place. We’ve said that long before it became a term that everyone started using,” Bloem says.

She also wants to continue attracting and fostering a diverse array of businesses, including healthcare providers, medical services and high-tech manufacturing.

“Probably number one would be the medical industry. I can’t tell you how strong that is for us,” she says.

Over the past decade and more, the mining and timber industries have receded in importance to the local economy on Lake Coeur d’Alene. It has been, and remains, a tough transition. Another local mill there announced a closure in early April.

“We’re looking for that diversity of opportunities for people,” Bloem says.

Bloem knows well how young people leave for educations and jobs. Her children and grandchildren left North Idaho, and then returned.

“One thing that takes place with growth, there are jobs,” she said. “It’s a hard place not to move back to.”

–Zach Hagadone writes from Boise, Idaho.

For more from the Spring 2008 issue of The New West magazine, including other stories about North Idaho, visit www.newwest.net/magazine.

For more from the Spring 2008 issue of The New West magazine, including other stories about North Idaho, visit www.newwest.net/magazine.

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