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Just before it started, Boise cancels garage project, first domino in airport revamp

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The City of Boise decided to cancel a project to build a new parking garage at the Boise Airport. The move will hold back $15 million in the airport’s budget. It will also cancel the hiring of hundreds of construction workers.

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“Due to the unprecedented drop-off in passenger traffic and flights over the past month, along with the severe economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boise Airport has made the decision to halt new construction until we are able to assess the impact of the pandemic and identify the best course of action moving forward,” spokesperson Sean Briggs told BoiseDev.

The new employee parking garage would add 710 stalls of parking on five levels along Wright St. The city envisioned the project as the first in a series to revamp the airpot campus.

‘This is about jobs’

ESI Construction said airport officials told them they submitted the successful bid for the project. The city budgeted the project at about $16 million. Company president Neil Nelson expressed frustration about the cancellation.

“From my perspective, this is about jobs. We had confirmed fairly recently that it was going to move forward,” he said. “We made business and staffing decisions. Nothing is for sure until you have a signed contract, but the city could have extended the contract like other projects in town.”

Three projects would reshape the Boise Airport campus in coming years. BoiseDev graphic
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Nelson said not moving forward with the project will mean subcontractors will not get work that otherwise would have been available. That includes plumbers, painters, electricians and the like.

The airport canceled the project the same day the US Department of Transportation announced it would award BOI $18.9 million. That amount is just more than the $18.16 million the city had budgeted for maintenance and operations this fiscal year.

Briggs said the dollars allocated to the garage project will instead sit in the airport’s reserve fund. He also said the project would not have been eligible for federal funding under the CARES Act due to stipulations in the bill.

But Nelson felt federal money could have covered operations while keeping the dollars for the capital project in the Boise economy.

“I get it if it was private business or enterprise, you want to hang on to your bank account and have some cash on hand,” Nelson said. “But they’re a government entity. They already had approval to move forward on this – they got stimulus to use for operating income.”

First project in a series

The front entrance to the Boise Airport. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

But Briggs said the airport chose to be cautious.

“We want to make smart decisions so we have funds to operate the airport moving forward,” he said. “The airport did review a number of different possibilities on this project. What it really comes down to is we are in this area of uncertainty. We have no idea on the economy and how long the passenger levels could be reduced.”

He did say the project could go out to bid this year – as earlier as late 2020.

The garage was the first in a long series of projects that would remake the Boise Airport campus. During a presentation last year, the airport director told the Boise City Council the pieces went in a specific order.

“These projects are sequential and have to happen in a specific order so that we can accomplish them,” Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said.

Briggs said airport staff started work on a review of the master plan and capital plan. They will then take that to the Boise City Council for review and approval.

Other elements of the plan, like the new public paraking and rental car garages, remain in the design phase.

“This will allow the Boise Airport to move quickly on these projects when we do see economic recovery,” he said.

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