Ada County might soon be on the hunt for a developer to partner with on more than three acres of downtown property.
Earlier this year, the Ada County Commission hired real estate firms Colliers and Clearwater Financial to do an analysis to recommend the “highest and best use” for four properties along Front Street. The report suggested Ada County go into a joint venture with a private developer to build a mixed-use project along the busy corridor, with a parking deck, retail space, office, possibly county administrative offices, and workforce or affordable housing.
The parcels, located at 102, 190, 208, and 374 Front Street, span the open land between Front St., the Ada County Assessor’s Office and Civic Plaza apartments, and the University of Idaho Boise location. Roughly half of the space is covered with open grassy land and the other half is a surface parking lot. The original early-2000s plan for the properties called for an urban-style Albertsons grocery store, which never materialized.
Commissioners were receptive to the idea of the joint venture, but they requested Colliers return with another analysis taking into consideration the possible development of another piece of county land: The triangle-shaped gravel parking lot on the other side of the courthouse at Front and 3rd St.
“In my mind, this property would be more valuable if it were sold in conjunction with the triangle lot,” Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said. “That triangle lot is sitting there and underutilized and these two pieces are so narrow…I don’t think you can get parking there.”
Colliers will return to the commissioners with a new analysis of how the other, larger triangle parking lot can be developed in the coming weeks. Then, a request for proposals looking for developers to partner with can be posted.
Why is the county considering this now?
Currently, the four properties are leased by the urban renewal agency Capital City Development Corporation, which pays an annual rent to Ada County. This amounted to $241,000 in fiscal year 2022, but the amount changes year-to-year depending on a variety of factors.
The original plan was for CCDC to turn the development rights of the property over to a private developer. Approval from Ada County would then be required for any future projects as part of a public-private partnership. But, CCDC said the private developer they were considering partnering with is “no longer a viable operating entity” and the project is dead. Because CCDC has been paying rent on a property it doesn’t believe it can develop, the agency has requested to terminate its ground lease and leave Ada County to develop the property.
CCDC helped redevelop the courthouse complex in 1999. It transferred much of its interest to the county in 2015.
Colliers suggested Ada County only terminate its ground lease with CCDC until it has put together a plan and landed a developer to partner with on the site. That way the county can still receive rent payments on the property.
The report from Colliers examined a few options for the Front Street property. This included an outright sale of the property to the highest bidder, a ground lease to a private developer, or a joint venture.
Colliers suggested a joint venture where the county has a 15% stake in the project over a ground lease where a private developer owns the project in its entirety because of state law. Idaho law prevents counties from ground leasing to private developers for longer than five years. And to renew the lease, it would require a unanimous vote of future Commissioners, introducing uncertainty into the deal.
Ada County’s Bermuda triangle
This isn’t the first time the commissioners have discussed the triangle-shaped parking lot to the west of the courthouse.
Currently, the property is a gravel parking lot for Ada County employees, but at one time CCDC had other ideas. A year ago, CCDC staff met with the commissioners to discuss the possibility of redeveloping the entire superblock between Front Street, 3rd, and 5th streets into a mixed-use project with a parking garage, housing, office, and commercial space.
The idea of selling the triangle lot to CCDC hasn’t gone anywhere, though, after Ada County Commissioners were concerned CCDC didn’t have the same vision for parking on the site that they did. For instance, Ada County Commissioners wanted parking on the site to accommodate the needs of their employees, but CCDC commissioners, including Mayor Lauren McLean, weren’t so sure a large parking deck was what they wanted for the site.
When BoiseDev asked on Monday, March 14th why the talks to sell the lot to CCDC failed, Ada County spokesperson Elizabeth Duncan said she could not respond until the next day. When she did not respond, BoiseDev followed up and Duncan said she was still working to gather information, but still has not provided additional detail.
CCDC spokesperson Jordan Neerdaels declined to comment on the reasons talks with the county about the triangle lot ended. However, she told BoiseDev that her agency is potentially open to collaborating with Ada County on revitalizing the area along Front Street.
“Our vision for a new multi-block mixed-use public-private partnership still remains a possibility and although we as an agency are currently focused on (two parcels near the YMCA along Jefferson Street) and that catalytic transformation of that neighborhood, but we are available to assist the county and adjacent landowners.”
But now, it appears that circumstances have changed the Ada County Commissioners have changed their tune. Commissioner Rod Beck chimed in with Kenyon at Monday’s meeting supporting her proposal to also develop the Triangle Lot along with the Front Street properties because a bigger piece of land would attract more bids.
Commissioners also discussed the idea of working with CCDC in some capacity on the project, but the district will expire in 2025 and the agency will no longer be able to spend funds in the area.
“I think adding the triangle lot would be more of a comprehensive approach,” Beck said. “I would think that adds a lot more value for the county.”
The urban district area that includes the courthouse land is set to terminate by 2025, leaving a short window for the agency to participate in any projects.