The 247-acre Expo Idaho site in Garden City is headed for a shakeup, but Ada County could take it in three very different directions.
Should agriculture and the Western Idaho Fair remain the focal point of the property? What about a multi-use sports and entertainment complex? Or should it change into a town center with housing, shops and office space?
On December 8, Ada County’s Citizen Advisory Committee will give its final feedback on recommendations to develop the sprawling complex near the Boise River. Once the committee finalizes the recommendations, they will go before the Ada County Commissioners and the public for feedback for a decision.
Ada County has had its eye on redeveloping the property for over a year. It is home to the now-defunct Les Bois horse racing track, the aging stadium where the Boise Hawks play, Lady Bird Park, a section of the Greenbelt and, most notably, the venue for the annual, 10 day Western Idaho Fair.
The draft recommendation report laid out three possible scenarios with different focuses. The scenarios could mix and match depending on the preferences of the county and the public. No matter what they select, the advisory committee said any final proposal will include natural spaces, room for Expo Idaho Events, the Greenbelt, Ladybird Park, roads and parking lots for visitors.
Redevelopment could also include room for county administrative offices, an RV Park and a venue for the Western Idaho Fair if the county decides to continue holding the event at the site.
The three possible focuses for redevelopment the committee is suggesting to the county are: outdoor education and agricultural heritage, sports and events or a mixed-use town center.
Now that draft recommendations have been developed, the county will begin a community engagement process to get feedback from the public on what they hope for the site. Ada County will also conduct a cost analysis to determine the feasibility of the project and develop a detailed site plan. At the same time, the county will also assess whether the Western Idaho Fair should continue to be held on-site or if there is another suitable location elsewhere.
Option 1: A fair-focused future
Enhancing the site for hosting the Western Idaho Fair is the biggest priority in the first scenario.
This calls for the creation of an agriculture heritage park to pay tribute to Ada County’s historic connection to agribusiness on the site where the fair is currently held. It would include farm-to-table restaurants, tasting rooms for local breweries and vineyards and local retailers selling other local products. Year-round, agriculture-related activities could be held there in an equestrian center, livestock barns and exhibition space. It would provide a location for 4H and FFA events.
This scenario proposes a learning center for “experiential learning” where the Boise Hawks currently play. It would include resources like a community kitchen, archer range, teaching gardens and other horticultural areas connected to the existing University of Idaho Extension campus.
The natural environment is the focus of the area along the Greenbelt where the old stables for the race horses and part of the race track are now. This concept includes a river walk, a wetlands recharge area, outdoor classrooms, a casting pond for fisherman and other spaces for visitors to experience river ecology.
Option 2: Play ball?
Sports is the name of the game in the second scenario.
This proposal includes a multi-use stadium in the far southwest corner of the property, which could house the Boise Hawks, tournaments and other sporting events. The draft recommendation says the stadium should be fully convertible and be usable for a multitude of events, but it doesn’t get into specifics about what other sports would be offered on-site. The stadium could also be located closer to the river, depending on the preferences of the county.
This scenario includes minor upgrades to the Expo Idaho site to compliment the new stadium. The parking lot along the Greenbelt and some of the stables would convert to natural trails and walking paths. The other half of the stables and the race track would convert to a recreation area with amenities like sports fields, a casting pond, archery range, a dog park, disc golf course or a driving range.
Earlier this year, developer Tommy Ahlquist’s company and Boise Hawks Owner Agon Sports, presented a concept for a $234 million overhaul of the Expo Idaho site to the advisory committee. This would include single-family homes, apartments, office space, a new stadium, room for the fairgrounds, a park and sports fields.
The draft recommendations do not mention Ahlquist’s proposal for the site. In September, the Greater Boise Auditorium District, the organization funded by hotel taxes that runs the Boise Centre, decided the district would not put any resources toward the proposal for the stadium redevelopment. Executive Director Pat Rice told Ahlquist the board rejected it not based on concept – but because of concerns related to revenue losses from COVID-19.
Scenario 3: “Downtown” Garden City?
A bustling shopping area is the focus of the third scenario.
The proposal includes replacing the current location of the Boise Hawks stadium with a mixed-use shopping center, like The Village in Meridian. It would include a central plaza, a mixed-use area with office space, various types of housing, retail shops, restaurants and fountains to create a walkable neighborhood-style development. Ada County could also use this site for government offices.
With the population influx in recent years, the Ada County Courthouse downtown where the county’s administrative offices are located is bursting at the seams. Depending on the priorities of the incoming commissioners, relocating some county offices elsewhere to make room for more courtroom space could be a solution to the need for more space for legal proceedings and associated staff.
Under this scenario, the county would upgrade Expo Idaho’s facilities and the area where the horse stables are located would convert into open space with walking trails, parks and river access alongside the Greenbelt.
The “town center” could also be located on the current site of the race track or in the southwest corner.