Quiet effort could bring urban renewal to Boise's Bench

Don L. Day
BoiseDev.com

BOISE - Urban renewal may expand beyond downtown if a plan in the works from the Capital City Development Corp. & the City of Boise takes hold.

Boise bench tank farms via Flickr user Laura Gilmor

Boise bench tank farms via Flickr user Laura Gilmor

CCDC officials have been quietly meeting since last year to study the feasibility of adding a fifth urban renewal district in Boise.  The CCDC's original district in the downtown core will formally sunset next year, and in recent years officials have sought to keep the organization alive by adding new responsibilities and expanding the impact of urban renewal to other portions of Boise.

CCDC was founded as the Boise Redevelopment Agency in 1965, and immediately set about building a large shopping mall in the downtown Boise core - clear-cutting old buildings, and nearly taking out the Egyptian Theater.  As the project stalled, Harpers Magazine declared "Boise stands an excellent chance of becoming the first American city to have eradicated itself." 

In the 1987, the first district was formed in the "downtown core" for a term of 30 years.  New districts have been added along Myrtle/River Street, the westside of downtown and 30th street.

In Idaho, urban renewal districts use public funds to make changes to items like transportation, infrastructure, parking and streetscapes. CCDC has also the power of eminent domain, and has acquired property and sold it to developers for commercial projects. The districts are funded with expected gains in tax revenue -- instead of taxes from increased property value going to schools, fire and police - they are given to the urban renewal district during its 30-year term.

Next up - the city hopes to take the agency's mission far beyond downtown. According to documents acquired from CCDC by BoiseDev.com, it is in the early stages of adding a large district that would encompass much of the bench - with particular areas of focus around Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, the oil & gas tank farm on Curtis and the commercial corridors of Overland Rd. and Vista Ave.

CCDC has prepared a draft map of a proposed revenue allocation area:

The new area, currently in draft form, would include Overland Rd., much of Vista Ave., Curtis Rd., the area of the oil and gas tank farm - and an area including  Vista Village (disclosure: my family owns this shopping center, but I'm not a partner in the business. Also, my grandfather was an early board member of the Boise Redevelopment Agency in the late 1960s and early 1970s).

Beyond its work with parcels of land, CCDC has used its funding for projects like streetscapes, trees, studies, parking garages, the Grove plaza, and even funding of projects not directly connected to urban renewal like a grant to business incubator Trailhead.

Students at Utah State University spent a semester late last year putting together ideas for how to revitalize sections of the Bench. One idea even turned the tank farm into a public park - with a playground, walking paths and a sloping hill and overlook on top of one of the tanks (providing "a 360 degree view of the central bench and surrounding areas.") This is just one of several pie-in-the-sky ideas you can see presented here.

CCDC has not yet conducted broad outreach on the expansion idea - but has been working on the plan for nearly a year. Many major landowners and residents impacted have not yet been contacted or informed of the plan - and this story is the first time the plan has been exposed to the public after inquiries and requests under Idaho's state public records law. One document notes that the district has not yet resolved "how much public engagement is desired with neighborhood stakeholders."

The agency has put together an initial estimate of costs - totaling about $405,000 to get the plan going. 

According to those documents obtained by BoiseDev.com, CCDC has a large number of unresolved questions:

  • How a 2015 survey for Vista Ave. fits into a possible district
  • Should a steering committee be formed, and if so who should be on it
  • How much collaboration should happen with overlapping taxing districts
  • Who will pay for startup expense

A timeline for creation of the possible district has not yet been established.

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