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Could Boise tank farm transform to mixed-use neighborhood? City, Ahlquist, fuel consultant look at ideas

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Right in the middle of the Boise Bench sits dozens of large fuel storage tanks. Spread out over three blocks and bisected by a railroad spur, the tanks dominate the Curtis Rd. area.

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But city leaders hope the tanks could someday move – far from the center of the city – out near the airport. If the vision comes to fruition, it could transform an industrial section near downtown into a mixed-use destination.

It started with jet fuel

Boise hired Armbrust Aviation to help assess its jet fuel supply as part of its master planning, according to company principal John Armbrust.

While the city has not utilized its contract with Armbrust since April, he paints a picture of what could happen for the project.

Currently, jet fuel – along with automotive fuel for cars – comes up to Boise on a pipeline from Salt Lake City. That pipeline feeds the current Curtis Rd. tank farm — but also runs right through the airport property.

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“It doesn’t make much sense on a jet fuel proposition for it to be deposited seven miles north and to be trucked back down when the pipeline runs underneath the airport facility,” Armbrust said.

The jet fuel assessment project and vision to move the tank farm started to merge.

Boise’s comprehensive planning document, known as Blueprint Boise mentions the tank farm project. Adopted in 2011, the Central Bench section of the plan says the city will “explore opportunities for the redevelopment of the tank farm located in the Morris Hill area as a high-density, mixed-use area through the Specific Plan process.”

Boise Tank Farm
The Boise Tank Farm could be reimagined as Curtis Junction. Via The Brothers Rabe/BVA – Google Earth

Armbrust thinks a plan to move the farm can be a win for everyone – citizens, oil companies, the airport, and the environment.

“That facility is 67 years old,” Armbrust said. “It has been there for a long time. At one time it was outside the city center but the city swallowed it up. We can build a brand new state of the art facility in a place that makes more sense.”

Here’s how it would work, according to interviews with Armbrust, Tommy Ahlquist and the City of Boise:

  • Armbrust Aviation would purchase the three current tank farm properties on the Boise Bench.
  • It would build a new tank site on property owned by the Boise Airport, and lease it from the city.
  • Destroy the existing tanks and clean up the site.
  • A local developer, like Ahlquist’s BVA, would then redevelop the site.

Step 1: negotiate to move to a new site

Armbrust’s company is negotiating with the owners of the tank farm site to move the facilities to the airport. Once owned by Chevron, Marathon Energy, Sinclair Oil and Franklin United Oil now own the farm.

“We would create a commercial agreement to make this all a possibility,” he said. “All stakeholders have indicated a willingness to do this. I personally know Marathon, Sinclair and Franklin United are all willing to move to the airport.”

To fund the move and new facility, Armbrust’s company would asses a fee on gas leaving the new tank farm. He said it works out the equivalent of about two cents per gallon of gas.

“So if you look at the cost of the average consumer we’re probably looking at (2 cents per gallon). That would be paid for over the 30-year time frame it would pay the cost of moving the tank farms, building a new cleaner facility, and benefit the community with redevelopment of the old site.”

It isn’t clear if the oil companies would agree to the arrangement.

The Boise Bench tank farm supplies gas to service stations all over the Boise metro area and beyond. Trucks transport the fuel to gas stations around the region.

“If we believe the demographics that Boise is going to continue to grow, the truck transports in the Boise Bench facility could grow to 200-300 truck transfers a day,” Armbrust said. “That is going to put a lot of trucks in that city center, which would be more suitable for the airport property.”

Where, exactly, the new tank farm would go isn’t set, according to Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp. However, the need to be close to the pipeline narrows the possible locations.

Hupp said the changeover in management from Andeavor to Marathon resets the process and it will take time to determine if the oil companies are willing to move forward.

Red line indicates the fuel transmission line through Boise. Courtesy US DOT.

Step 2: Clean up the existing tank farm

Once workers pull out the tanks, environmental remediation would need to take place. The property changed hands multiple times in recent years, as it transitioned from Chevron, to Tesoro, to Andeavor, and to Marathon. When Chevron sold the farm to Tesoro, the Federal Trade Commission required it to divest portions. That action brought in Sinclair and Franklin United Oil.

All the property transfers give Armbrust some level of comfort of what remediation needs to be done.

“There was some discovery available in those transactions that determined the extent of environmental remediation needed,” he said. “But until you put a shovel in the ground you don’t really know.”

He said moving to the airport provides a host of environmental benefits. In addition to reducing truck traffic, the new site could bring about the relocation of a plastics facility that the City of Boise currently ships those “orange bag” plastics off to.

“Instead of trucking all that waste down to Salt Lake City, this would create the opportunity for a cleaner environment and a biomass facility to make ethanol in Boise,” Armbrust said.

Step 3: Rebuild the Central Bench

Curtis Junction
Early rendering of the Curtis Junction project envisioned by Ball Ventures Ahlquist for the Boise bench. Via BVA

With the tank farms moved and the ground cleaned up, nearly 50 acres of land would be freed for redevelopment.

Armbrust’s company reached out to Ball Ventures Ahlquist to develop a vision for how an empty tank farm area could look.

“I think it’s a fantastic site,” Ahlquist said. “It’s good for the city. A lot of things we do are fun to develop and make sense, but this is transformational to a city,” Ahlquist said. “It has retail, schools, the hospital – and the Greenbelt comes right into it from Downtown.”

With the city’s comprehensive plan calling for a dense, urban-style redevelopment to take place, it could provide an opportunity to bring a whole new look to a central part of the city.

Blueprint Boise calls for a “specific plan” for the tank farm sites.

Boise currently uses specific plans in three areas. Two exist in the Barber Valley area, and a third for the CBH Homes Locale development. Specific plans dictate a variety of guidelines for building design, street layout and other design principles (like walkability, for instance).

Boise’s comprehensive plan states that a specific plan for the tank farm corridor should seek input from Central Bench residents and businesses, look at land use designations and look for “alternative state or federal funding to expedite relocation.”

Curtis Junction

BVA calls its vision for the area “Curtis Junction,” which echoes the train corridor the runs through the site.

The company produced a video that lays out the vision. It includes a mix of housing, shops and restaurants to complement the existing neighborhoods. (Editor’s note: The video refers The Carlyle Group, a national private equity firm, but Armbrust and Ahlquist said the company is not currently involved in the project).

Ahlquist said BVA’s involvement in the project still depends on some of the other pieces noted above coming to fruition.

“We didn’t get to deal terms because there are so many things that hadn’t happened with the oil and gas companies,” he said. “Relocating the tank farm is hard.”

Armbrust said he thinks the benefits make the project worth doing.

“The benefits of to the citizens of Boise of relocating the tank farm that is right across from the hospital, and a senior citizens’ home and a near a high school to a place that is more appropriate makes a lot of sense,” Armbrust said.

Urban renewal role unclear

While Armbrust said the cost of relocation of the fuel tanks would be borne by a fee on the gas shipped out of the new tank farm, it remains unclear what, if any, role urban renewal could play.

The tank farm sits within the boundaries of a study area for a new urban renewal area. That project is spearheaded by the Capital City Development Corporation.

“There are things happening on the tank farm properties and it looked like it was moving forward a little more rapidly,” City of Boise Deputy Director of Planning Darren Fluke said during a forum about urban renewal on the Bench earlier this year.

Neither the city nor CCDC has said how or if urban renewal could be used to help fund redevelopment.

Update: Adds clarifying language about the satus of Armbrust’s contract with the City of Boise, and Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp’s comments on the status of the idea.

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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