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As Downtown Boise’s skyline evolves, will it see a “new tallest” building?

Development and growth are around every corner in the Treasure Valley. But since 2013, one thing has not changed: Idaho’s tallest building.

The 8th & Main building, home to Zions Bank, has stood above all the rest, at 323 feet since 2013. It eclipsed the nearby US Bank building across the street, which has stood at 267 feet tall since 1978.

There are several projects in the works that would approach the record for tallest building:

  • Oppenheimer Companies proposes a 28-story apartment building at 12th St. and Idaho St. As proposed, it would be 317 feet tall. It is moving through the approval process.
  • Scot Ludwig says he hopes to build a 19-story tower at 5th St. and Broad St. No applications have been filed for the project which would stand 253 feet tall.
  • Hovde Group hopes to build a 19-story condo project at 6th St. and Front St. known as Ovation at 231 feet tall. The project has not yet been approved.
  • Ball Ventures Ahlquist wants to construct the ICCU Tower at 4th St. and Idaho St., at 13 stories or 199 feet tall. The project has approvals and demolition is set to begin this winter.

Parking and funding

The Clearwater Building, Zions Bank Building, US Bank Building and Main + Marketplace as seen from the ground level. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

BVA CEO Tommy Ahlquist, who built the 8th & Main Building while at Gardner Co. and is now at work on the ICCU tower, says tall buildings are tricky projects.

“Even before the current frenzy, it was hard,” he said. “The reason why is you have to make a good business decision and financial decision both for tenants and when it comes to parking. It’s very complicated – how much do you build, how do you underwrite it, and how do you fund it?”

Each of the projects noted above includes significant parking built into the project, with multiple floors or “decks” of spot to store cars. Ahlquist said the consumer demand for parking in residential and office projects is a big part of the calculation.

“You get into a parking discussion, and it’s hard,” he said.

[One of downtown’s last undeveloped blocks could see hotels, residential project]

He notes that supply chain issues, construction labor shortages, and available land play into what to build, where, when — and how tall. For office buildings, average rents per square foot haven’t changed much in recent decades in Boise, meaning projects aren’t generating as much revenue as they did years ago when factors like inflation are factored in.

“Until recently, we had not seen bumps in rents for decades. You’ve got this fixed-revenue source on an office building, but with costs going up, it’s hard to get where you need it to be for a pro format.”

Redevelopment possible

Pennbridge Lodging Downtown Boise
This 1.78 acre site in the middle of Downtown Boise is one of a few undeveloped parcels that is targeted for redevelopment. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Many of Downtown Boise’s remaining surface parking lots have proposals for development or are in the process of possible development – with a few exceptions like those owned by Idaho Power or the JR Simplot Co. Ahlquist said he doesn’t expect those lots to change, but more redevelopment of existing sites could start to happen as developers look for ways to build downtown.

The Capital City Development Corp. is in the middle of a process to pick a development partner for a project center on lots near the YMCA. One idea would tear down the Y and other buildings for a multi-block mixed-use project that would be a significant change in the area. And Ahlquist’s ICCU tower would replace a current small credit union branch and parking lot.

Ultimately, while there may not be much change in the answer to the trivia question “what’s the tallest building in Idaho?” right away, Ahlquist says Downtown Boise will remain an attractive place to develop projects.

“It’s smart to dev downtown where people live and work,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘let’s grow smart and take advantage of existing infrastructure,’ but hard to do.”

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at don@boisedev.com.

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