Meridian Mayor Robert Simison believes the key to a more vibrant downtown area is taller buildings.
He spoke with us at length for the BoiseDev podcast about the fast-growing city and the challenges that come with more people, houses, and cars on the road.
Simison says one of the hindrances keeping Meridian’s downtown core less lively than it could be is the amount of one-story buildings.
“I envision a little bit more vertical downtown,” Simison said. “That’s really what we’re talking about when we talk about destination downtown. You have that live, work, and play. Well, it’s really hard to do that in a one-story building.”
Several multi-level, mixed-use buildings are currently under construction in downtown Meridian, including the Old Town Lofts project, which will add up to 500 apartment units to the area with office and retail space below. The mayor says that type of growth will reshape the downtown area’s core in years to come.
“We’ll see some of those restaurants, nightlife activities that will be supported by the people that live in those buildings,” Simison said. “That will be supporting the commercial and retail in that area that people want to see in our downtown.”
Downtown Meridian is just one of the multiple pockets of the city growing rapidly. The northwest and southeast parts of town are bustling with new housing developments.
“From Linder Village, then heading west along Blackcat, though the McMillan and Ustick corridor, that’s where we are seeing a lot of residential housing,” Simison said. “And then in the southeast, we have seen a lot of housing down Eagle Rd. and in Centreville Farms, kinda going up into the Sky Mesa area below.”
As a southeast Meridian resident, I asked Simison if the area would see more restaurants and entertainment options with so many subdivisions and apartment complexes popping up. He pointed to the plethora of restaurants that have opened along Eagle Rd. and other parts of the city in the past six years but added that more will come.
“Commercial follows rooftops,” Simison said. “When new restaurants are coming into the market, Meridian is on their list. And it’s not just restaurants. Supermarkets, financial institutions are coming in. They are putting those services closer to where people live.
‘Traffic is a big issue for our residents’
A not so appealing but frequently inevitable side effect of growth is increased traffic. And Meridian is no exception.
“Yes, traffic is a big issue for our residents”
The mayor pointed to the current widening of southbound Eagle Rd. to three lanes and the recent widening of Chinden near Costco as measures the city is taking to alleviate congestion. However, Simison added that traffic is a growing pain Meridian will likely have to endure for a while, given how road improvements are funded in Idaho.
“Road improvements typically follow developments, and I know they rarely come before it,” Simison said. “Most of the roads here in Ada County are funded through impact fees. So, you know, sometimes we have to go through a little bit of a challenge with roads that we want to see improved, as soon as ACHD generates the dollars.”
With more people on the road, Simison says the city hs made significant investments in public transportation, including the soon-to-be-launched Route 30 Pine bus route, which has been delayed by COVID-19.
“It is really our first inner-city bus route,” Simison said. “It will get people from 10 Mile through downtown, to The Village. We are trying to really get to those areas like multifamily apartments, and you need to have enough density to make things like transit work.”
‘Everyone is concerned about schools and the impacts that growth has on those schools’
Overcrowding in Meridian schools has been an issue for the fast-growing city. Simison says Meridian will begin meeting with leaders from the West Ada School District twice a year for an update on enrollment.
“Once the school district kind of gets their enrollment numbers for that year and sorts out where people moving and then doing that again, sometime in the springtime,” Simison said. “We’ll look about six months to see what changes occurred in those last six months to kind of help us make those decisions as we work through the summer process. So, what kind of development applications that come forward.”
The pandemic has also brought challenges to leading the City of Meridian. You can listen by searching BoiseDev on your favorite podcast platform, on Listen Boise, or with the player below.