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State of Downtown: Data shows challenges, but leaders express optimism

Paddles Up Poke

The Downtown Boise Association held its annual “State of Downtown” event online Thursday. While it sounded notes of optimism, it also illustrated some of the challenges the area faces.

Survey: concern about the future

The group, which markets the region, conducted a survey of business owners, managers, and employees last month. Representatives from more than 75 businesses replied.

More than a third said they were either very or moderately concerned about going out of business – a full 37%. Another 35% of businesses said they were slightly concerned.

[Major Downtown Boise tenant CenturyLink won’t return after pandemic]

“It feels like these numbers are showing the diversity of businesses down here, and how some are getting hit harder by this pandemic than others,” DBA Executive Director Jennifer Hensley said.

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Future of Downtown

The survey results showed 40% of businesses said their revenue dropped by at least half. She said one business said they are down $34 million over the prior year, and another said they’d been closed since March.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean acknowledged the challenges.

“We know the coming months and likely years ahead will require all of us to come together to weather tough times,” she said. “I’m sure each of us will remain focused on the goal we all share, which is to build a city for everyone.”

[Open and shut: New data shows rising number of permanently closed Idaho businesses]

Signs of tourism recovery

Crews closed a portion of 8th St. in Downtown to allow for increased outdoor dining. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Matt Borud, Marketing and Innovation Administrator for the Idaho Department of Commerce, focused on the impact to hospitality and tourism across Idaho – and specifically in the Boise area.

For the State of Idaho’s fiscal year, which runs June through June, he said the last year only ended down 3.9% in lodging tax collections statewide.

“Given the complete shutdown we experienced in March and April, and cancellations in May and June, it’s a testament to the strong year we were having,” he said.

But he said numbers are starting to move in a more positive direction.

[Move back to Stage 3 shows up in decreased Downtown Boise activity]

“We are optimistic. We are seeing numbers over the last few months that give us reason to be optimistic. “We’ve seen numbers come in better (this summer). Idaho and Boise have outperformed where we saw some of these initial projections which is something we are happy about.”

He shared data that indicates lodging activity in Ada County is starting to perk up – though still down overall from last year. But he said the area has advantages in a changing time for tourism.

[‘Boise is Back:’ Tourism team works on plan to attract (some) travelers]

“Bigger urban destinations aren’t as desirable,” he said. “Downtown really has the perfect balance of what tourists are looking for going forward.”

Hensley acknowledge the strange time since she moved to Boise last year – but thinks better days are ahead.

“I started and a few weeks later the holiday tree fell over, and then, of course, the pandemic. But I feel like there’s no better place to be in this time”

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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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