Could Nampa’s First Street South become like Boise’s Eighth Street?

In the last year, nearly 10 businesses have opened or are working to open on First Street South in downtown Nampa, marking momentum for the area.

Several of those business owners remarked that First Street South could become Nampa’s version of the popular Eighth Street in downtown Boise. Eighth Street is regarded as the heart of downtown Boise and generates a significant amount of revenue, according to Lynn Hightower, executive director of the Downtown Boise Association.

The street connects directly to the Grove Plaza, a public gathering place where many community events are held. Eighth Street is lined with a variety of restaurants and local shops, and is popular among tourists and Idaho residents as both a daytime and nighttime destination.

Eighth Street became what it is today because of a combination of resources and collaboration between the private and public sector, notably from Boise’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corporation.

Nampa’s urban renewal agency isn’t in the same position to invest in downtown, leaving it up to the businesses to make sure First Street South becomes the destination they hope it could be.

HISTORY

The lighted fountain jets on the Grove Plaza bring some needed heat relief and a visual element to the area. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Eighth Street’s development started in the 1980s, when then-mayor of Boise Dirk Kempthorne called a meeting with downtown stakeholders, including developers, civic leaders, and business, property and landowners, to try to figure out a plan to create a centerpiece for downtown Boise, according to Max Clark, director of parking and mobility for CCDC. Before that meeting, Clark said Eighth Street wasn’t anything special, with wide, uninteresting roads and low-quality sidewalks.

“I wouldn’t want to live here,” he said.

The meeting led to the plans for the Grove Plaza and the redevelopment of Eighth Street as a connecting path to complement the plaza. The Boise Urban Renewal Authority, the former name of Boise’s urban renewal agency, invested the necessary resources to complete both projects, supplemented by community donations and revenue from commemorative bricks and other sponsored features.

Clark said the project leaders wanted Eighth Street to become an environment that slowed down motorists and was more pedestrian-friendly. They narrowed the road and widened the sidewalks, which allowed for more outdoor dining opportunities. Outdoor dining was popular enough that Clark said it added to the momentum of more businesses interested in opening along the street.

Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters opened a coffee shop along Eighth Street in 2001. Abbey Wymond, general manager, started working there about a month after the coffee shop opened. She said the owners chose to locate on Eighth Street because it was “a phenomenal exposure opportunity.”

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“It’s arguably the best street in Idaho,” Wymond said.

Over the last 18 years, Wymond said Eighth Street has changed dramatically, estimating that customer traffic has quadrupled since 2001. Wymond attributed this partially to Idaho’s population growth, but also to the work CCDC put in to make the area appealing for customers and businesses.

More recently, CCDC invested about $6 million to renovate the Grove Plaza in 2015, which also included some improvements to Eighth Street, Clark said. He described the project as a goodbye gift from the urban renewal agency to the area before it expired as an urban renewal district last year. The region now falls under the city’s jurisdiction.

NAMPA’S PROGRESS

Nampa officials have been trying to revitalize their city’s downtown for years.

Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling noted that as one of her goals before she took office in early 2018. Last year, the city invested $2.9 million to reconstruct Second Street South and Third Street South through downtown, repairing the damaged roads and sidewalks.

Kling said Nampa has increased its involvement with the Main Street program, a national program that provides organizational leadership and ideas for ways city’s can revamp their downtown areas.

Nampa’s downtown revitalization efforts were recently granted $100,000 from the Kevin and Mary Daniels Fund. Kevin Daniels is a Seattle developer and former member of the national Main Street board who is from Nampa, Kling said.

When he stepped down from the board last year, he created the trust that people donated to, collecting $100,000 that he chose to allocate for downtown Nampa. Kling said city officials have not decided how to use the money yet.

Drinks and chips at Mesa Tacos + Tequilla in Nampa. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Beyond that, most of downtown Nampa’s progress has been spurred by the private sector. Several businesses over the past year have announced their intention to open along First Street South, and a few of them already have, including Labyrinth Escape Games, Antlers Boutique and Mesa Tacos + Tequila. They join longtime popular hangouts including PreFunk Beer Bar, Messenger Pizza and Flying M Coffeegarage. But still, several other key spaces along First Street stand empty.

Mesa’s popularity was key to getting the ball rolling for more businesses showing interest in downtown Nampa, according to Nampa Economic Development Director Beth Ineck.

The restaurant had its soft opening in January, and immediately the business was packed with customers. Co-owner Shayna Randall said Mesa sees 400 customers on a typical day and has wait times of up to two hours on busy nights.

Matthew Lind, director of operations for Labyrinth Escape Games, said some of his customers come from Mesa. Randall said she and her staff often recommend other downtown businesses to their customers while they wait for a table.

Since Labyrinth opened in August, Lind said it’s been encouraging to see the increasing number of businesses taking up shop along First Street South. He said there is still a long way to go before the area lives up to its full potential, and there needs to be some support from the public sector to get there.

“This is our town,” Lind said. “We need to make it something wonderful.”

KEY FACTORS OF SUCCESS

Boise officials said there are several key factors that make Eighth Street as popular as it is, but one that kept coming up was transportation. Hightower said downtown Boise is designed in a way to ease transportation for both motorists and pedestrians.

Eighth Street’s speed limit is lower than the surrounding streets, which Clark said is meant to slow down traffic to fit the atmosphere of the area. The wider sidewalks ease mobility for pedestrians and allows for more outdoor dining, and Clark said it is helpful to have slower traffic passing those diners.

“No one wants to have dinner along Front Street,” Clark said.

Kling said if Nampa had the resources, she would like to widen the sidewalks on First Street South to allow for more outdoor dining, as well.

Hightower said downtown Boise’s public art also makes the area an appealing place, and Eighth Street offers several public art displays to complement the surrounding businesses. Nampa, in comparison, has some painted electric boxes and at least one mural, and that’s pretty much the extent for public art downtown.

The presence of residential units also contributes to Eighth Street’s constant activity. Many of Eighth Street’s buildings offer residential space on their upper floors, providing a stable customer base for the nearby businesses.

Lind noted that adding more residential units could help downtown Nampa. Not only would it add to the existing businesses’ customer base, he said it could also spur interest in different types of businesses like a neighborhood market.

Downtown Nampa does have some residential units in the Van Engelen apartments along First Street South, which is undergoing a remodel.

CLOSED FOR EVENTS

Hightower said Eighth Street is designed to be an event street, which can be closed and reopened when needed. Though it isn’t always closed for events, she said Eighth Street typically holds events every weekend during the summer — its busiest time of year.

The numerous events help add to Eighth Street’s reputation as a destination and increases the likelihood that customers will return to visit some of the businesses. Nampa, meanwhile, closes down First Street South just once a year for Halloween, Ineck said.

The Capital City Public Market along Boise’s 8th Street in 2015. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

Several Nampa officials said they would like to see First Street South turned into more of an event space.

Lind said he would like to see retractable bollards installed along the street to close it off on the weekends. Ideally, he wishes First Street South would be closed to traffic permanently, which he said would invite pedestrians to travel freely from business to business and spend more time downtown.

“You need activities in order to inspire people to come to the area,” Lind said.

NAMPA’S PROBLEM

While much of Eighth Street’s private investment was driven by public investment, Nampa does not have much public investment to spare for First Street South. In fact, Ineck said she hasn’t heard any interest from Nampa officials on investing public money downtown right now.

Like Eighth Street did during its redevelopment, downtown Nampa exists in an urban renewal district, scheduled to sunset in 2030. Nampa’s urban renewal agency, the Nampa Development Corporation, has jurisdiction over any infrastructure work and transportation improvements done in the area.

NDC is still paying off two bonds used to construct the downtown parking garage and the public safety building on Second Street South, which limits the agency’s capability to invest in downtown. Of the agency’s $5 million budget for fiscal year 2019, over $2.8 million went toward bond payments. The bond debt for these two projects is roughly $36 million and is scheduled to be paid off in 2030 and 2031.

Because of these bond payments, not many NDC officials support using funds for other purposes. Board member and Nampa City Councilman Darl Bruner said he wants to prioritize putting the maximum amount of funding toward paying off the bonds as soon as possible, and he wants to be careful about how NDC uses any remaining funds. Bruner said he would support certain efforts downtown, though, such as widening the sidewalks along First Street South.

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The city can contribute some funding, but officials haven’t done much with the options they have. A few weeks ago, council members could have allocated funding from a Community Development Block Grant toward pedestrian improvements downtown; they chose to fund other projects instead.

As for public art, the city has an Arts and Historic Preservation Commission. Ineck said they only have a budget of $10,000 at most every year, and most of that is used for historic preservation efforts.

WHAT’S NEXT

First Street South may never become comparable to Eighth Street, but Ineck said she doesn’t think it’s a fair comparison to make. She said Eighth Street is a longer segment of road than First Street South, and the traffic patterns are significantly different.

Beyond that, Ineck’s hopes for First Street South are different from what Boise officials’ vision for Eighth Street was. Ineck said she wants every storefront along First Street South to be open, and for the area to become a vibrant street filled with activity.

Kling listed similar goals for downtown Nampa. She said although the city has limited resources, she wants to figure out ways to encourage more private businesses to come downtown. She said if more businesses locate in the area, those owners will invest their money in improving the facades of downtown Nampa’s buildings, which will in turn make the region more appealing for additional businesses.

“Broken and boarded windows will not move us forward,” Kling said.

Kling said she is also asking NDC officials to contribute half the funding for a Main Street coordinator position so the city has a full-time staff member who can devote all of their time to downtown Nampa’s revitalization.

Lind, with Labyrinth Escape Games, said even if the city can’t invest any dollars downtown, he would still like Nampa officials to help the businesses figure out a downtown brand.

“We don’t seem to have an image that everyone can rally around,” Lind said.

If the city isn’t able to invest in downtown Nampa, Lind said he believes the businesses and growing market demand will eventually lead the area where it needs to go. He said city officials can help anchor downtown by creating a brand that will determine what the area will look like after the development is complete.

“The city can contribute to the story,” he said.

Erin Bamerhttps://www.idahopress.com/users/profile/erinbamer/
Erin Bamer is the city of Nampa reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer.

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