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Vision for revamped Boise Bench tank farm ‘fizzles’ due to oil companies’ resistance

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Long-discussed plans to move the site of the tank farm on Curtis Road to the outskirts of town to develop the large parcel are on indefinite hold. 

For years, the City of Boise and former Mayor Dave Bieter worked to try and find a way to relocate the three-block area covered in dozens of fuel tanks out of the middle of the Boise Bench. The vision was to work with developer Tommy Ahlquist’s firm Ball Ventures Ahlquist to develop it into a large mixed-use project after negotiating a move to a new fuel facility at the Boise Airport. 

Concept stalled

Boise Bench tank farm
The tank farm on the Boise Bench takes up a large section of space that city leaders hope to see transformed into a mix of uses. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

But, these efforts stalled on all fronts. Mayor Lauren McLean’s Economic Development Director Sean Keithly said the last discussion he took part in about the move was late fall 2019. He said the companies, like Marathon, which own the farm, weren’t swayed to move the site because the farm has been upgraded and is adequately sized to meet the region’s needs

“They didn’t have a strong interest in making changes,” he said. “It’s really more of an investment decision on their end that would need to move the needle. (The farm) is in good shape, and that’s where things stand.”

A public records request for emails about the project since the start of McLean’s term turned up nothing except for an email from Ahlquist requesting a meeting to discuss the project in January 2020, shortly after McLean took office. 

The project was going to be part of a once-proposed Boise Bench urban renewal district through Capital City Development Corporation under Bieter, but once McLean took office, the push to establish an urban renewal district on the Bench was abandoned

“We have had no forward movement on the tank farm, and we of course we look at new urban renewal districts at the request of the city, and there’s been no direction or push forward to look at new districts,” CCDC spokesperson Jordyn Neerdaels told BoiseDev. “We’re not doing anything currently.”

What was the plan before?

Tank farm sites. Via BVA

The City of Boise eyed the site for a change for over a decade. 

In Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan from 2011, the tank farm is called out as an area where the city should look for opportunities to redevelop it into a high-density, mixed-use area. The pipeline from Salt Lake City that brings all of the Treasure Valley’s gasoline and jet fuel feeds into the tank farm bisected by a train track, but the pipeline also passes through Boise Airport property. 

To help negotiate the move years ago, the city of Boise hired Armbrust Aviation to study the city’s jet fuel supply, as BoiseDev previously reported. Once the company examined the tank farm and the location of the pipeline, the concept of redeveloping the tank farm and relocating fuel supply to the airport merged into one. 

Armbrust’s pitch in 2019 was to levy a fee on gas leaving the tank farm to raise money over a decades-long period to pay for the move and remediation of the site after decades of use as a fuel facility. This would free up 50 acres for development BVA could then redevelop into an urban area using a specific plan, similar to the type of planned community style urban planning used in Harris Ranch and CBH Home’s Locale project in Southwest Boise. 

Ahlquist said the project ultimately “fizzled” after the oil and gas companies did not agree to the complex process of moving the facility. 

“We were brought in to paint a picture of what it could be, we did a lot of work of how you could redevelop it and what could this become if we could get them to play ball,” he said, describing the visioning effort. “We did a video and put in a lot to help the PR and the target of it was the oil and gas companies that would need to help and make it happen, but at the end of the day the cost of moving it and the bureaucracy for a big company was too much.”

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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