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‘It’s terrific:’ Citizen’s panel makes final recommendations for Expo Idaho site

Ada County’s Advisory Committee is nearly ready to send off its final proposals for a remade Expo Idaho Site nearly a year in the making. 

On Tuesday night, the seventeen-member group put the finishing touches on a set of recommendations they released for the public and Ada County Commissioners to review. It includes multiple different scenarios for the redevelopment of the 247-acre site in Garden City, which currently houses the Boise Hawks, the Western Idaho Fair, Expo Idaho, Lady Bird Park, a section of the Greenbelt and the now-defunct Les Bois horse racing park. 

Three different directions, or a mix of all of them?

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 suggested to the county are: outdoor education and agricultural heritage, sports and events or a mixed-use town center. 

Committee members made some small changes to the report at their meeting, but largely gave it a thumbs up.

“It’s terrific,” Matthew Wordell, a Boise-based photographer, said. 

[Ada County Commissioners set the stage for open space preservation]

Town Center preferred near Chinden

One major change the group made placed their preferred location for a town-center style development, near the intersection of Glenwood Street and Chinden Boulevard. The first version of the draft report located this piece across the street from Garden City City Hall. 

Developer Clay Carley said he preferred the town center be located near the intersection instead, which would have the best vehicle access and closest to traffic noise instead of the natural area at the edge of the river.

“That busy urban center belongs at an intersection instead of near the river in my opinion,” Carley said.

Other committee members agreed, saying placing the town center in the southwestern corner of the property made the most sense. Matt Wilde, General Counsel for Boise State University, did not object when the group discussed moving the preferred location to the intersection and away from the river, but he said the group needed to better define what they were hoping for.

“What I envision as a town center for Garden City is not on a state highway with a McDonalds and a Fred Meyer across the street,” he said. “I think it’s the difference between a heavy commercial development versus kind of what we talk about like a Hyde Park, Bown Crossing type of smaller urban town center, so maybe we need to flesh that out.”

Affordability and local business support

Western Idaho Fairgrounds
The Gazebo Stage at the Western Idaho Fairgrounds. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

The panel also discussed housing.

On the draft recommendation report, different types of homes were suggested to be included in the concept for the town center, but there was no direct mention of affordable housing. Several group members said they supported added a clause that mentioned a range of housing types, which included affordable units.

“I think you’d be safe saying a variety of housing options, rather than saying one versus the other,” Bill Conners, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO, said.

On the agriculture-focus proposal, Ed Lodge, a board member of the Western Idaho Fair, said he wanted any messaging about the concept to say that it would support local businesses. This idea includes the idea of having space for local restaurants, vendors, breweries and wineries to have tastings and sell their products to promote Southwestern Idaho farm-to-table products.

“In no way would we want to in the minds of the constituency I have, to compete or harm the restaurants, breweries and wineries going on in the community, but only to create programs that enhance what they’re doing,” he said. “In order to do that, we need to have a line of communication between those businesses to find out, if the public decides to go this route, so we could best serve and create a meaningful experience for everyone.”

What’s next?

The next steps are in the hands of the Ada County Commission, which will flip to Republican control in January. An in-depth analysis of cost, potential revenue, future location of the fairgrounds and public outreach on the proposals still needs to be completed before any action is taken. 

Marie Kellner, with the Idaho Conservation League, said the final report should strongly urge the county to continue the process and take next steps to move ahead with some redevelopment.

“It is important to provide a path forward and our thoughts on next steps,” Kellner said. “I really think it’s important to do it in a relevant place and if they want to ignore it that’s fine, but we’ve done the work and have some ideas on how to move it forward, so why not move it forward I guess.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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