Developer and others: Boise Circulator should skip rail and go driverless

Autonomous electric bus, Courtesy Protera.

Autonomous electric bus, Courtesy Protera.

Should Boise invest in a transportation mode out of the past - or look to the future for options? It’s a question being asked by members of the City’s Circulator Analysis steering committee.

BoiseDev.com reached out to each member of the group in May for comment on the process — and of those who replied, a recurring theme emerged: the need to investigate a driverless bus system.

Just a few years ago, such an idea might have seemed futuristic and farcical - but it’s a concept that is growing in traction.

In Helsinki Finland, the RoboBusLine has been promoted from trial to full-time service.  The electric-powered vehicles carry folks along a fixed route - traveling at about 7 miles per hour.  For now, each bus has a driver on board in case of emergencies - but that could change over time.  

This 3D printed bus is known as Olli, and is already on the streets of Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Local Motors.

This 3D printed bus is known as Olli, and is already on the streets of Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Local Motors.

In Washington, DC - two futuristic technologies have come together - with a driverless 3D-printed bus roaming the streets. Olli, as it is called, has places for twelve people and is built by Arizona-based Local Motors. Unlike the fixed-route example in Finland, Olli can be summoned with an app much like Uber.

Just across Idaho’s southern border, Reno is testing a fleet of electric driverless buses from a company known as Proterra. These buses look similar to traditional human-driven coaches, and for now will still have a driver in place as backup.  They can travel 600 miles on a charge - and can hold dozens of passengers.

If Helsinki, Washington and even Reno can do it — why not Boise?

Prominent Downtown Boise developer Clay Carley raised the concept to BoiseDev.

“Autonomous vehicles are sexy and inviting,” Carley said. “They have very low initial cost and low cost to operate and maintain.”

Carley notes that such systems aren’t quite ready for primetime, but could be ready to in the three to five-year timeframe that Boise will need to attain funding.

The current idea bouncing around the City of Boise would rely at least in part on overhead catenary systems — basically wires hanging over a rail route, snaking along the street where the streetcar might travel.

Carley says he’s not in favor of such a system.

“If we choose that path, by the time we get done it would be an antiquated system,” he said. “I’m not for that, I think it would be a mistake.”

He says an autonomous bus concept would have lower initial cost and lower ongoing cost than a spendy train concept.  

If it is $120 million for a rail system, I would vote no - and I would rally other business owners to vote no
— Clay Carley, Boise developer

Carley owns a number of properties along the proposed circulator line - including The Owyhee, many of the buildings in Old Boise and others.  If a local improvement district is established to help pay for the system - business owners like Carley will be called upon to pay for it.

“If it is $120 million for a rail system, I would vote no - and I would rally other business owners to vote no,” he said. “That affordability factor is crucial - and I don’t see it happening with a rail car the way it’s happening thus far.”

He says that such a system would need a sense of permanency - with stations, stops and possibly even a contract.

Carley's The Owyhee sits on a proposed Boise circulator route. One funding option mentioned by the City of Boise is a local improvement district, which would assess an extra tax for properties on the line like this one. Photo courtesy The Owyhee.

Carley's The Owyhee sits on a proposed Boise circulator route. One funding option mentioned by the City of Boise is a local improvement district, which would assess an extra tax for properties on the line like this one. Photo courtesy The Owyhee.

“I’m a property owner that would be on the route and I’d be more inclined to develop if an autonomous vehicle was going up and down that route for a contract 20 years.”

Architect Gregory Kaslo, who was also on the Circulator steering committee, brought up the self-driving idea last year as well.

“This is a perfect transportation ‘problem’ begging for a self-driving shuttle solution,” he wrote.  “If established, the feedback loop of fixed route, fixed stops and predictable demand would help the design of a responsive economical transportation network.”

ACHD Commissioner Sara Baker thinks that an autonomous bus route should be given more thought.

“It's an intriguing concept and one that should be explored in depth,” she said. “In the interim, partnering with BSU and their shuttle is a good way to go.”

The Boise State Shuttle has two routes during the school year which run every fifteen minutes between campus and downtown. Photo courtesy Boise State.  

The Boise State Shuttle has two routes during the school year which run every fifteen minutes between campus and downtown. Photo courtesy Boise State.  

The Boise State shuttle runs frequently from the campus to stops near Bodo and at City Center Plaza on Main St. - and is often packed with students.  The project is paid for out of student fees.

“The BSU shuttle, which runs on much the same route (as the circulator), is available to anyone, not just BSU students, and it runs frequently throughout the day,” Baker said. “If the circulator concept is the end goal, then the city should investigate partnering with BSU rather than reinventing the wheel.”

Baker said she felt the City’s end goal is a fixed-rail streetcar, but emphasized that the steering group didn’t actually endorse it.

“I think it was obvious the goal on the part of the city was a fixed streetcar,” she said. “Rather, the route was endorsed but mode of transit was left open as was the need for the public's approval.”

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In the material put in front of Boise City Council before a vote on the circulator proposal last month, city staff emphasized an older focus group from 2014.  That group was a pre-selected batch of decision makers, and 54% favored rail.  The agenda packet provided to Boise City Council before its decision did not include the result of a more recent March Open House on the circulator which showed public opinion is mixed on mode between bus and rail according to documents obtained via a public records request by BoiseDev.  At least one media story also showed a different survey, making support for rail seem more robust than the most recent feedback opportunity showed.

Baker’s ACHD colleague Jim Hansen hopes that some type of solution can be brought into reality - though he didn’t advocate a specific idea in an interview by email. 

“Urban areas that offer real transportation choices are better positioned to meet market demands in the future,” he said. “If we don’t invest in those choices today, we end up building more and more limited mode infrastructure that does not trigger private investment and ends up costing future taxpayers too much to maintain. 

He also criticized his own agency.

“The challenge in our area is that the one local government entity in Ada County that is empowered to invest property taxes in transportation (ACHD) has chosen not to invest very much in transportation choices.”

I think it was obvious the goal on the part of the city was a fixed streetcar
— Sara Baker, ACHD Commisioner

Local entrepreneur Jeff Reynolds works downtown and recently purchased a home near the city center.  He also thinks Boise would be well-served to look at autonomous bus solutions to the downtown transportation challenge.

“The City seems to only be seriously considering a rail-based system, even as we sit on the precipice an autonomous vehicle revolution,” Reynolds said. “Instead of rail, the City should seriously consider an autonomous vehicle circulator — dedicated lanes that allow self-driving buses and cars to move swiftly through downtown and beyond."

Carley agrees.

“I think there’s a better solution on the horizon and we just can’t see it yet,” he said. “It has to be affordable, and it has to be fixed, and it has to be smart, and I don’t think rail is in the ground is very smart.”

While Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told the circulator committee that his “preference is for a fixed rail system," his spokesperson said he is open to the role autonomous vehicles could play in Boise’s transit system  

“The mayor and others involved in developing TAP (Transportation Action Plan) have been thinking about autonomous vehicles and their place in the mix,” City of Boise spokesperson Mike Journee said.

BoiseDev in-depth: Boise Circulator:

Boise restaurant hopes GoFundMe can save business

Bob & Toni Hodge. Courtesy Shangri-La

Bob & Toni Hodge. Courtesy Shangri-La

The owners of Shangri-La Tearoom and Divine Lotus Tea Company say if they can't raise $20,000 from a crowd funding campaign, they may have to close up shop. 

Bob & Toni Hodge say a new landlord took over ownership of their building at Federal Way and Overland Rd. on the Boise Bench last year. 

"Last year they demanded what I can only describe as an extremely unreasonable increase in our lease payment," the couple wrote.  "We can no longer work with the present owners."

The pair say they have a new spot picked out, but need the donated cash to make it work.  

 "We do have a new location in mind, but due to our higher lease payments over the last year, we simply cannot do this on our own."

As of this writing three days after launch, the campaign has raised about 4% of its $20,000 goal. 

Thanks Lara for the tip! 

Developer plans new parking garage downtown

An eariler plan for a new garage in Downtown Boise

An eariler plan for a new garage in Downtown Boise

Old Boise Inc. developer Clay Carley is moving forward with his plan to build a parking garage in Downtown Boise.

Carley says the area really needs more parking - so he is forging ahead with the project.  

"We are going forward with a garage as soon as possible and a wrap of either residential or hospitality in the future," he said.

The new garage would be built on a block Carley owns bounded by Front St., Grove St., 5th St. and 6th St.

Carley previously had applied for a hotel project that would include the garage -- he says that may still happen, but wants to get going on the parking phase.  As originally proposed, the garage would have parking for 700 cars and 50 bikes. It could hit the City of Boise's planning team's radar this summer.

Planters removed on 8th St. ahead of revamp

Planters and flowers have been removed along 8th St

Planters and flowers have been removed along 8th St

The Capital City Development Corporation has removed planters along the section of 8th Street it controls from Main St. to Bannock St.  The planters were removed in April.

What will replace them isn't yet decided, according to CCDC officials.  Hanging pots, smaller ground-anchored pots and other ideas are being tossed around.

ALSO READ:
Retractable bollards planned for 8th St.

The large grey concrete planters were moved to other locations around downtown.  CCDC felt that the pots had become a place where trash and cigarette butts collected - and they were taking up chunks of sidewalk space that might be used better by pedestrians.  Officials even sent along two photos that they say show problematic use.

A full revamp of the street is planned, which officials say will happen after public feedback. Ideas like festival lighting and more are being considered, according to documents shown in CCDC public meetings.

CCDC says plants and flowers will be a part of that process.  For now, the street will remain flower and planter free.

ALSO READ:
Mayor wants more shade at Grove Plaza

Funky Taco to replace downtown Mongolian Grill

UPDATE JUNE 16: Funky Taco has submitted a design renewal application with the City of Boise to take over this space and remodel. In addition to the details below, The Funky Taco plans to add access to the existing unused basement and add a mezzanine level in the space.

ORIGINAL STORY - MARCH 21, 2017:  Boise foodtruck The Funky Taco is exciting fans with a rendering of a bricks and mortar location in downtown Boise at the corner of 8th and Bannock.

No permit filings have landed at Boise City Hall yet, but the rendering shows a revamp of the current Mongolian Grill and Bar space next to Dawson Taylor on the corner.  Upgraded signage, seating and facade are in the plan.

The pic was posted to social media with a Strugill Simpson lyric:

"Shatter illusions that hold your spirit down
Open up your heart and you'll find love all around

Oh I'm telling you, It's all a dream....... It's all a dream" 

The owners also posted they "hope to make you proud, Downtown Boise."

The current foodtruck incarnation offers "eclectic tacos and other funky fare with influences from India, Asia, Mexico, and Southern Americana with a heavy influence on Vegetarian and Vegan fare with select Omnivore options as well."

No timeline for opening - the building revamp would likely have to go through Boise's Design Review process.

New Cutwater restaurant set for McCall's Shore Lodge

Courtesy Shore Lodge

Courtesy Shore Lodge

Shore Lodge will welcome a new eatery later this month, with the debut of The Cutwater.

The centerpiece of the new restaurant is a 2,000 gallon saltwater aquarium filled with tropical fish and a living coral reef.  Officials say the tank will weigh about eight tons when filled.  Crews used a crane to hoist the tank over the Lodge last month.

The restaurant will feature American fare with pricepoints for meals under $30.  It goes into a newly remodeled space on the lower level. The existing Narrows restaurant remains.

Opening night is June 16th.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served with indoor and outdoor lakefront seating.

Developer hopes to rehab, expand old Brownfield's building

Prosthetic maker Brownfield's moved out of Downtown to Meridian after 56 years at 5th and Idaho late last year. Now the building owner wants to revamp the space and add a second story - but hurdles remain.

Brownsfield's still owns the building, and hopes to use the existing building for a future restaurant tenant, plus a retail space and office on the second floor.  The old, brown, dated shopping center-looking building would get a modern new look with brick, steel, wood and a blue painted stucco.

The restaurant would have seating for about 50 people, with the adjoining retail space featuring about 2,700 square feet of space.  Tenants are not named.

ALSO READ: 
Longtime Downtown retailer Brownfield's moves to Meridian

The project has to pass muster with Boise's historic preservation panel - even though the existing Brownfield's building isn't exactly historic.  It sits inside the boundaries of the Old Boise district which adds the tougher review standards.

In the applicant's letter - it is clear that city staff want the applicant to tear down the building and reorient it toward the street. A 16-space parking lot sits between the building and the street currently.

"While we can appreciate the reasoning behind this, it is simply not a financially viable option given, among other reasons, the Owner's desire to capture the value of the existing basement level area and to retain the current parking count," architect Walter Lindgren wrote. 

"We wholeheartedly acknowledge and respect the City’s vision for this corner and understand this proposal may not likely garner Staff's support; however, it appears this proposal does meet the Level I Improvement criteria under the City’s established standards for building additions and remodels."

Lindgren is proposing new streetscapes on the Idaho St. and 5th St. sides of the project - and notes his team has been in contact with the Capital City Development Corporation to access public dollars to help make those improvements happen.

The public hearing is set for June 26th.

Thanks, Frank, for the tip!

Bye Buy Idaho: local goods store on the move

The Downtown Boise storefront for Idaho products booster Buy Idaho is on the move. 

The store has long been a staple in the 8th Street Marketplace right below Bodovino, but is currently closed up.  A sign on the door notes that the store will reopen on July 1st at 412 S. 6th St. - a few blocks away in the former location of Lonecone (which itself moved over to 3rd St.).

The small store has a smattering of local goods from providers around the state. 

Thanks, Paul, for the tip!

 

Bieter: New Grove Plaza needs more shade

Officials with the Capital City Development Corporation, Downtown Boise Association, and Greater Boise Auditorium District celebrated the reopening of Boise's Grove Plaza with the first Alive After Five of the season last week.

The plaza is currently owned by CCDC and managed by GBAD. The DBA runs the popular Alive After Five event.  And in the next year or so, the City of Boise will take over ownership of the plaza when CCDC's central district terminates or "sunsets."

CCDC revamped the plaza with new bricks, an upgraded fountain, new wi-fi and more. It complements an expanded Boise Centre West, new walkway and City Center Plaza developments.

An initial rendering showed large sails around the perimeter of the Grove Plaza to provide shade. The sails were not installed for engineering reasons.

An initial rendering showed large sails around the perimeter of the Grove Plaza to provide shade. The sails were not installed for engineering reasons.

But one planned improvement didn't come to life: large sail-like canopies that would have provided shade on hot Boise summer days.  

Boise's mayor lauded the new plaza during a Monday meeting of CCDC - but had a complaint.

“My only concern is talking about shade during events in particular.  I understand logistically that from an engineering standpoint we couldn’t put the sails in during the initial design," he said.

CCDC purchased some fixed shade-type shades when the big splashy sails didn't work out. Bieter requested more of those.

ALSO READ:
Wi-fi added to Grove Plaza

Google Earth shows the many mature trees that were removed for a Grove Plaza revamp

Google Earth shows the many mature trees that were removed for a Grove Plaza revamp

"Until the trees get bigger, that would help," he said.

As part of the projects, more than 56 mature trees were removed in the plaza and along the north, south and east spokes.  New trees were planted with so-called Silva cells to allow for better root growth - but the trees are not well developed and provide little shade for now.

CCDC Executive Director John Brunelle responded to the mayor's admonition by saying "what we did purchase and put out there was well received. We have two styles of umbrellas that we put out there.”  He said the agency would look at buying more.

Boise Boba bubbles into Boise

Boise Boba plans its second local outlet.

As we reported, the first opened in February in the Eagle Marketplace development in Meridian. 

What's Bubble Tea? As described in our earlier story: 

Boba - or bubble - tea, is an iced drink made with tea, milk and "pearls" made from tapioca.  The new shop has developed a millennial-infused lingo - with drink sizes like bestie, selfie and gucci and a variety of "bottoms" including original, poppers and jellies.

The new location is under construction at 212 N. 9th St. in the former Leaf Teahouse location (net to Banana Ink), according to signage.

Local BBQ restaurant to expand with bar space

BBQ4Life, a locally owned barbecue restaurant in Boise's Vista Village has announced plans to expand.  

The eatery will take over the adjacent Bench Bar space and add beer and wine to its offerings. The Bench Bar was a tiny book with a smattering of seats.

Brad, Bre & the BBQ4Life crew are waiting for the beer and wine license permit to clear and hope to have it in the next two weeks.  They plan to feature Idaho beer and wine.

Disclosure: My family owns and operates Vista Village

Idaho... has... the nation's... slowest... internet

This slow GIF probably took you longer to download if you live in Idaho.

This slow GIF probably took you longer to download if you live in Idaho.

Idahoans love a good list.

But the Gem State landed at the bottom of a list that is less-than-a gem: Internet speeds. Dead. Last.

Here's some data:

  • The fastest U.S. state, Deleware, has speeds at about 25 Mbps. That might not sound ripping-fast... but that is the average speed.  (District of Columbia is a little faster, but it gets an advantage since it's entirely comprised of one big urban area).
  • The average speed across the whole country is 18.7 Mbps.
  • Idaho's average speed is... hold on -- you gotta wait a minute to read this part. Wait for it. OK -- you get the point: It's 12.0 Mbps.  AKA - half as fast as the zippiest state, and downright annoyingly slow.

In the state's largest urban area, Boise, there is a duopoly on home broadband - CenturyLink or CableOne. According to Ookla, CableOne will get you an average speed of 52.21 Mbps down, while CLink fetches 18.1 Mbps.

But the real problem, of course, is Idaho's rural area.  Much of it has no real broadband. Nada. Twenty-two percent of Idahoans can't get their hands on an Internet connection that is greater than 25 Mbps.

Idaho won't get ahead while our Internet lags behind.

 

 

Juice bar set for Village at Meridian

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There's burgers. There's pizza. There's martinis. And yogurt. And more yogurt. And beer. And sushi. And wine. And candy. Rice. Chicken sandwiches. Regular sandwiches. More pizza. A bakery. Tacos. Salads.  

What's left? Juice.  

The Village at Meridian is prepping a space for Revitalize Juice Bar. The locally-owned spot will go on the corner of the parking lot and Monarch Sky Ln - right next to Luluelemon near Matador. Per a Facebook post, the owners have hired contractor Tom Bury from the TV show Restaurant: Impossible.

Pressed juice, acai bowls and pitaya bowls are planned. Look for an opening later this summer.

Albertsons to launch new style market in Boise

UPDATE: June 7, 2017: Building permits have been filed for this project, a ground breaking is expected soon.

ORIGINAL: July 6, 2016: Albertsons Companies plans a drastic overhaul of one of its earliest (and smallest) Boise stores - with a totally new store at Broadway and Beacon. 

Hot on the heels of our exclusive on adding grocery delivery in the Treasure Valley, the Boise-based grocery giant will tear down its so-called Broadway market, along with several adjoining businesses - and replace it with a much larger and more modern store with some unique features.

Currently, the Albertsons store faces Beacon street and is part of a strip which includes a laundromat, liquor store, Noodles & Company and several vacant storefronts. Here's the current site plan:

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If it gets approval from planning and zoning, the retailer will begin work on a 70,000 square foot store which will face Broadway instead of Beacon - and back up onto Grant Avenue. The existing store will be torn down, along with a vacant medical office and most of the strip center. The Idaho State Liquor Store and Noodles will be retained, and will become a pad site - as will the existing Wells Fargo Bank. This is how the site will look upon completion:

The store itself has been designed with a unique format which will include a second floor area and outdoor balcony. Documents filed with the City of Boise indicate the new store would include an indoor/outdoor space on the second floor for "family and group gathering and dining functions." The store borrowed design elements from the original Vista Village Albertsons Department store that dates to 1953, according to the documents (a source of Day family pride ;) ). In this archive photo of the old VV Albertsons you can see a metal trellis with the store name/logo on top - which figures into the design shown in the renderings below.

The new store will back up on to Grant Ave.  The company has gone to quite a bit of work to try and preemptively answer potential city planner concerns by dressing up the sides of the building that will face residences.  A row of homes once lined Grant - but they have all ben purchased and torn down, allowing Albertons to expand on the site. Here's a Google aerial image from 1999:

A P&Z hearing will be held in August. Albertsons hopes to build the new store before tearing down the existing building.

Northgate Shopping Center to get façade makeover

Northgate Shopping Center, home to Albertsons, Idaho Youth Ranch, Rite Aid, Goodwill and the Northgate Reel Theater - is about to get a makeover.

The center at State St. and Glenwood will update with a blue, slate and tan look, with metal copper topping, metal panels and a dry stack stone cladding treatment, according to designs approved by the City of Boise. Stell trellises will also be added in sections. New "anchor tenant" type treatments will be added for the Youth Ranch and Liquour Store tenants among others.

The current look dates to the 1980s. The portion of the center which houses Albertsons is not currently slated for upgrades.  The retail chain recently revamped the front of its store.

The project is valued at $1.2 million and is in the building permit stage.

 

 

 

Edmark returns: Former GM dealer takes stake in nearby car lot

Last October, Dave Edmark sold his stake in the dealership that bears his name.  Now, he owns at least part of another car lot that sports the name of someone else.

Kendall Auto purchased Edmark Superstore and Edmark Kia from Edmark Auto Inc. in October, and early this year announced the change and rebranded the dealership as Kendall at the Idaho Center Automall - acquiring the assets, employees and dealership location.  

According to filings with the Idaho Secretary of State, Edmark Auto Inc. has assumed a stake in Tom Scott Toyota along with owner DH Moss.  DH is the son-in-law of Tom Scott, who founded the Nampa dealership. Scott died in 2009.

The Tom Scott Toyota dealership on Can-Ada is not to be confused with Tom Scott Honda on 11th Ave. N in Nampa. That dealership was also founded by Tom Scott - but is currently owned by stepson Richard Scott and is not part of the deal.

A Tom Scott Toyota rep did not return a request for comment.

The Appletons and Axiom: what's next for the popular gym chain?

Are changes afoot at Boise's Axiom Fitness gyms?

Late Micron Founder Steve Appleton founded Axiom in 2011, after converting several Gold's Gyms he owned.

The holding company for Axiom, Fitness Holding LLC, is still listed under the ownership of Steve's widow Dalynn Appleton and the Appleton Family Trust.

But several new entities have been created with the Idaho Secretary of State - Axiom Fairview LLC, Axiom Meridian LLC, Axiom Village LLC and Axiom Parkcenter LLC. Each of those is registered to Shannon Cook of Eagle.

Fitness Holding LLC  is still listed on Axiom's membership signup page, and is controlled by the Appleton family as of Friday.

Separately, Parkcenter LLC is listed by the Ada County Assessor as the owner of the land under the Axiom facility on ParkCenter Blvd.  Control of Parkcenter LLC was transferred from Thomas Manschreck to Cook on March 9th, according to the Secretary of State.  The land under the gyms on Fairview and Meridian, as well as The Village, are owned by a variety of development companies.

Cook is also listed as the owner on Callier Riverwalk, which owns Boise's Riverwalk Apartments - among other businesses.

BoiseDev reached out to the following people, none of whom replied to messages sent:

  • Chris Appleton, Steve's brother - who is listed as an agent on the holding company
  • Mark Jackson, the attorney for the Appleton Trust
  • Shannon Cook, principal in the newly created entities
  • Annie Ostalosa, VP of operations for Axiom
  • Dale Kajer, VP of sales for Axiom

North End Baird's site could get mixed-use project

A banner went up on the front of the old Baird's Dry Cleaners near the Boise Co-Op this morning, and it generated lots of interest.

Several folks sent us tips (thank you!), and the North End group on Facebook is abuzz about the project.  The banner on the building notes a few features:

  • Four story mixed use building
  • Three floors of condominiums
  • Underground parking garage
  • First floor shop space

The project is being put together by David Southers and his eponymous Southers Properties - the company behind the 2000s-era Hyde Park Place condo project.

No permits have yet been filed with the City of Boise, and Southers tells BoiseDev the project is still in the early stages.

 "We're working on the design and site plan," he said by email. "(It) looks like the site will support about 30 residential units and 4,000 s.f. of shop space."

Southers said that just today he's received five inquiries about the project.  The banner notes a 2018 opening date.

Stay tuned.