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An aquatic center in Boise? GBAD approves funds for possible project

A new competitive swimming complex could be on its way to Boise with a little help from local government. 

The Greater Boise Auditorium District Board voted unanimously Thursday to consider allocating up to $5 million in funds toward the development of a new aquatic center with two swimming pools. Private group Idaho Competitive Aquatics is developing the project in the hopes of creating a larger complex for competitive swimming, lessons and events in the Treasure Valley at all levels. 

[Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donates $10M to Treasure Valley YMCA]

Ryan Stratton, a member of ICA, made his proposal to GBAD and asked if they would help the group acquire the land for the project, lease it back to his organization and also help cover the cost of enclosing the pool so it could be used year round. The group hasn’t located a piece of land yet and did not have a definite request for funds, but he said the price tag for the land and the building could cost between $3 and $7 million. 

Pool space in demand

Stratton said the region sorely needs a place for competitive swim teams to practice, large-scale meets, and master’s level competitions. Stratton said several swim clubs and a water polo team already committed to using the space once it’s built due to the lack of pools suitable for competitive swimming events in the area.

“If you ask the high school coaches in town, the space for high school kids to do normal practice is so slim they can’t have the full athletic experience,” Stratton said. “Having a pool like this where we can house any number of high schools would be outstanding for the community.”

GBAD is a local government entity funded from hotel tax revenue that runs the Boise Centre Convention Center and markets downtown Boise. Auditorium districts are also allowed to take out bonds without voter approval, unlike cities and counties, and can to operate sporting facilities. 

Not including the land acquisition and enclosing the building, Stratton estimates the project would cost $2 million. This includes the construction of a 50 meter pool suitable for competitions and a smaller 25 meter pool that could be used for lessons, handicap access, rehabilitation and open swim. 

Stratton’s proposal, which is not finalized yet, is for GBAD to purchase the land, lease it to ICA and then let the organization run and pay for the rest of the operation. He said revenue will come in from competitions and teams and clubs paying to use the space, as well as passes for open swimmers and lessons. 

“We’re not asking for the district or the city to provide operational support,” Stratton said.

Where to put it?

A site on Findley Ave. in Boise eyed by aquatic center developers. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

He showed examples of three parcels they had considered, including a parcel at the corner of Front Street and 13th Street. Stratton and Board Member Jody B. Olson did not say the exact property they looked at, but they made reference to it being owned by the Simplot family, which was not interested in selling to develop the aquatic complex. JRS Properties III owns an undeveloped 3.5-acre parcel between the inbound and outbound Interstate 184 Connector. Olson said he personally met with the owners to lobby on Stratton’s behalf, but they didn’t get anywhere. 

Other properties he showed to give the commissioners an idea of price included cheaper land at 8924 Franklin Road near Maple Grove Road and 3575 Findley Avenue off of Federal Way. He said they have not found a piece of land to purchase yet, but one of their major priorities is trying to find a location with abundant parking so they can host meets with hundreds of swimmers and their families. 

Stratton said ICA also had multiple meetings with the City of Boise’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as Mayor Lauren McLean, about the possibility of locating the complex on city owned land near Borah High School. It would be close to a city pool, which they say would be complimentary to the project.

But, Stratton says McLean and the city turned down the project because they wanted to keep the land open for possible housing development down the road.

He expected these events would bring hundreds of thousands of economic impact to the valley due to meals, hotels, rental cars and other amenities for visiting competitors. Stratton also said if the facility was successful there could be room to add another pool, a concession stand or a diving well to expand its operations down the road. 

Board members asked a few questions about the search for land and the type of space they were hoping to build, if the project could be delayed while the economy continues to recover from the pandemic and how their project would be different from what was already offered. At the end of the discussion, they all signaled they would support it, but only up to $5 million, but between $5 and $7 million like Stratton originally requested. 

Before the vote, Board Chair Kristin Muchow checked with Treasurer Anne Marie Downen if it was within the district’s budget, despite the impact from the pandemic, and she gave a green light. GBAD still has close to $20 million in cash reserves.

GBAD said no to stadium

This isn’t the first request to back a sports project GBAD got in the past year. 

Over the summer, developer and one time Idaho GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tommy Ahlquist’s company Ball Ventures Ahlquist, Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties and Boise Hawks owner Agon Sports presented GBAD with their vision for redeveloping the Expo Idaho site. The $243 million proposal included a new stadium for the Hawks, a hotel, plaza, and housing. 

But, GBAD turned down the possibility of collaborating on the project. On September 1, GBAD Executive Director Pat Rice sent a letter to Ahlquist and his partners saying the project wasn’t denied because of the merits of the idea. Instead, the board members worried about the financial hit the organization took during the pandemic when travel and conventions abruptly dropped off. 

Multiple groups have been kicking around the possibility of GBAD playing a role in financing the redevelopment of a new Hawks stadium for years. Rice told the media multiple times in recent years there never was a proper proposal to fund the stadium before the board, so they never formally weighed in on the idea. 

On Thursday, Rice told the board ICA had been in talks with GBAD about the aquatic center since fall of 2020 and had gone through their proper process to pitch the idea, instead of floating it in the public. 

“We’ve previously had people talk about us before they talk to us,” Rice said.

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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