Boise Mayor Lauren McLean largely campaigned on changing the approach to growth and housing in Boise. With both rent and housing prices booming, she is taking steps to focus on Downtown Boise can be part of the process.
And one key tool is the city’s urban renewal agency. McLean dubbed it “CCDC 3.0” in an interview with BoiseDev – echoing a history of change for the decades-old agency.
The Capital City Development Corporation launched in 1965 as the city’s urban renewal agency. Over the next 55 years, the agency took two distinct approaches to its mission: tear lots of buildings down and clear the way for a downtown mall — and, when that didn’t work, invest in what remained of the downtown fabric and work to make it better.
The history is long and twisting. Those early years were marked with failures, political agendas, and a singular focus on bringing a mall to Downtown Boise.
But after decades of challenges – and long after a stunning national magazine article that derided what it called “tearing down Boise,” the agency changed course. New political leadership and an outside view reframed urban renewal. Instead of sweeping away buildings, leaving behind dusty parking lots, the agency changed its approach.
Over the next 30 or so years, significant effort went into infrastructure. The Downtown Boise of today – with its brick-paved sidewalks, Grove Plaza parking garages, hidden fiber lines, clean streets and numerous new buildings sprang largely of the revamped approach of the renamed CCDC, as well as a business improvement district formed by the Downtown Boise Association – along with participation from the City of Boise and to some extent, Ada County Highway District.
But now, Boise’s mayor is looking at how the urban renewal agency can evolve again.
McLean serves on the agency’s board and executive committee – and names new members to the panel.
“The one through-line with CCDC is the recognition that urban renewal is a tool for for economic development and opportunity. And we’ve seen that happen downtown in incredible ways,” McLean told BoiseDev late last month in an interview for our Future of Downtown event.
She said the board of nine community members – five nominated by former Mayor Dave Bieter, including Bieter himself – and four nominated by McLean – is excited to look at the role of the agency in the future.
“The chair in particular sees a great nexus between investments that would spur affordable housing downtown, and CCDC TIF investments,” McLean said, refering to CCDC board chair Dana Zuckerman. “We are working on these projects that will take some of these areas that have been vacant and turn them into housing, office buildings etc.”
If you ask the general public in Boise about CCDC, the first thing that might spring to mind is the agency’s role in parking. CCDC owns a number of parking garages downtown – and participates in some garages primarily owned by other parties.
“Historically we’ve invested in parking garages and streetscapes. There are many people that are suggesting – and I tend to agree with them – that we think about what the next strategy – CCDC 3.0 if you will – looks like.”
While the housing crunch in the Boise area isn’t new, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic could reshape multiple aspects of the city. McLean thinks that changing landscape plays a role in where things go.
“We can’t think we know exactly how things can be,” she said. “From an urban renewal perspective, we are trying to align both the agency and the city on affordable housing. As an urban renewal agency, we could make strategic investments that encourage projects and investments downtown that are taking into account the fact that the way we work and live is likely changing.
Housing runs through some projects
The strategy of that next phase may look like a project BoiseDev’s Margaret Carmel outlined earlier this month. The agency will issue an RFP, looking for a developer to help build a mixed-use project on land it owns near the YMCA. CCDC has tucked away money in its budget for several years for a so-called “transformative” project in its Westside Urban Renewal Area. The idea behind the project at 10th St. and State St. would bring at least 100 housing units for residents making 80%-100% of the area median income. It would also mix in a transit hub of some sort, as well as commercial retail space.
It’s not CCDC’s first foray into affordable housing. It used an RFP process for the Ash + River Townhomes, which wrapped up last year. Those condos are actually deed-restricted to keep rents low.
While some projects will roll in affordable housing, CCDC also continues to work on projectss focused on jobs and industrial use in the area south of Interstate 84, and hopes to launch a district centered around building a State Street transit corridor. And traditional streetscapes and parking projects aren’t going away, either.
McLean’s moves come at a time when affordability in Ada County continues to reach unprecedented levels – with no end in sight. The median price of a home hit $409,000 in September — meaning an ‘affordable’ home could still be well out of the reach of many citizens.
For her part, the mayor hopes to build on what’s currently in place, and go from there.
“I think it includes the foundation, but some iteration on what those investments look like,” she said.