Preliminary plans for a new ‘town center’ in Boise’s Barber Valley are starting to take shape. Developers presented early concepts on the project in the Harris Ranch subdivision to members of the neighborhood association Thursday night.
Brad Hillgren with High Rhodes Investment Group laid out a collection of ideas from two architecture firms the company hired. High Rhodes says the development of the three-block area along ParkCenter Blvd. between Old Hickory Way and Barnside Way could bring as much as $500 million in investment.
“This is a remarkable chance to do something unique,” Hillgren said. “We’ve been involved in developments around the country, and there is nothing like this.”
Boise’s Barber Valley on the southeast side of the city has seen significant new residential growth in the past decade, with a string of housing developments along the Boise River corridor. But outside of a few restaurants, a gas station, and some other services, the area has little to no commercial business.
Hillgren said the town center could help fill some of the commercial demand and add density to create additional customers for his project.
“What is really important is to make sure we get enough density on it to support the commercial spaces and public space to make it the place for Barber Valley,” he said. “The challenge is there aren’t enough rooftops out here. When you start to go out past a mile, a lot of acreage is beautiful hillsides and not people with American Express cards, so it is not what a lot of retailers look for.”
Hillgren designed the site to mix public spaces, restaurants, office, retail, multi-family housing, and parking. He referenced other projects in the valley like Bown Crossing, Hyde Park, the Village at Meridian, and others as reference points but ultimately said this project would be unique.
“The idea is to have it be a more gathering space. Think about it more like European piazza spaces, though don’t think European architecture,” he said. “These have worked for centuries with retail and dining on the ground floor with commercial and residential up above.”
Moving from north to south on the site, it could include some additional single-family townhomes. Then, planners envision a “main street” type area along ParkCenter Blvd., which serves as the spine for the subdivision. Moving south, a strolling street concept could be flanked by shops and restaurants, with sections set aside for public areas like a “front porch” seating area.
A food hall-type dining concept could be included, according to Hillgren. He evoked the upcoming The Warehouse food hall under construction in Downtown Boise as a proxy for the concept.
“Dining is going to be critical,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s a collection of dining uses and restaurants that cover a wide range of pallets and economic ranges. Want it to be a place to hold community events.”
The project would progress down to a village green to the south that would flank Warm Springs Ave. The plan would be to decrease the previously planned village green size and redistribute some of the open space through the rest of the development.
The site sits just to the west of the future Barber Valley elementary school and was originally going to be used as a playground for students, but the Boise School District secured additional playground space on site for the school, lessening the need to use the village green for kids.
Throughout the project, developers hope to build a series of “architectural icons.”
“We think about it with some architectural features, like a ranch gate or tower or bandstand,” Hillgren said. “A series of icons that march you north or south through the project and weave it all together through this quarter-mile of real estate.”
Outside the central core of the town center, several other features might be in the mix – including apartments, condos, and office buildings. Hillgren said they also hope to attract a “campus” type use, listing educational or office users needing multiple buildings.
A hotel could also come online.
“We would love to develop a hotel if we could get the right user and the right operator,” Hillgren said.
Parking is another key factor in the project, with Hillgren saying it is “crucial and expensive.”
“We’ve provided more parking than what is provided under the current specific plan,” he said. “We are suggesting adding angle parking all the way around the permitter of the town center. It gives us a significant number of spaces and doesn’t require us to build very large lots inboard.”
Surface parking lots or even a parking garage could be included depending on how the project comes together, but he hopes to hide those pieces inside the middle of the development.
The project could add as many as 600 residential units, which are allowed under the City of Boise’s specific plan for the area, which would add to the 900-1200 units already built in the development.
“The residential pays for retail,” Hillgren said. “Retail is difficult. It’s always a very dynamic sector of real estate. It’s not one you expect to make a lot of money; you hope it attracts and provides a service.”
CID debate a factor
As BoiseDev has reported this year, a group of neighbors has raised questions and concerns over the community infrastructure district in place in portions of the subdivisions developed by Harris Family LP and LeNir Ltd. The disagreement has spawned complaints to the city, accusations, and ultimately a lawsuit by the developers against residents spearheading the effort.
Hillgren said his firm is aware of the current debate but claims his project needs the CID to happen.
“I know there are some conversations that have been happing with the CID,” he said. “Projects like this can’t happen without the benefit of the CID, so we have to make sure that gets resolved.”
Funds from the CID would help pay for some of the public spaces in the project, including the village green, plazas, a possible public amphitheater, and other uses. He noted that the funds could not go to the commercial space, and ultimately those commercial users would also pay the CID assessment, which could help retire the district more quickly.
If the project implements angle parking as shown on the preliminary plan, it could require that current streetscapes be removed or modified. With furniture, trees, and parallel parking, the streetscapes are part of some street segments LeNir asked for reimbursement on, meaning residents in the area may have paid taxes for improvements that would have to be removed for the town center project.
The project will require approval from the City of Boise to change the Harris Ranch Specific Plan, which guides all development in the Harris Ranch neighborhoods. That plan was first adopted in 2007 and provided block-by-block details on what the area can and cannot include. High Rhodes would need to make changes to the plan to allow its project to move forward.
Hillgren says his team hopes to take proposed changes to the City of Boise in the first quarter of next year, which would require public hearings and consideration by city leaders. If approved, the project would move to more formal design and building permit stages. He said if everything goes well, the first phase could start construction in the second half of 2023.
The project would be built in phases over coming years, and that full project would depend on market demand and could not be built “in one fell swoop.”
He expressed enthusiasm about what his firm hopes to build.
“It really is an amazing chance to do something great given the amazing real estate we have there.”