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Developers, property owners in 17th Street area oppose city’s move to open new day shelter on Americana Boulevard

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Business owners in the River Street neighborhood aren’t happy with the City of Boise’s move to purchase a building for more day shelter services for the city’s homeless community. 

Last month, BoiseDev reported on the city’s aims to purchase the former Phoenix building on Americana Boulevard across Cooper Court alley from CATCH for a full-time day shelter. If the purchase goes through, the building, which was used as a warming shelter for several months over the winter, will be operated by a yet-to-be-identified non-profit to provide showers, room out of the elements and connections to other services for those living without housing in Boise. 

Nearby business and property owners Tom Rebholtz, George Iliff, Cathy Iliff and Annie Frampton raised objections to creating a permanent shelter in the location, saying it will stand in the way of plans to redevelop the area and will not address their concerns about littering, crime and other quality of life issues they say are caused by some members of the homeless community. 

On the other hand, city staff in the housing division and Corpus Christi House Day Shelter say existing resources for day shelter are overwhelmed and more space is needed as the city’s housing crisis worsens. They say the area is an important nexus of resources for people living unsheltered and adding more space outside the neighborhood will not reach the people who need it most.

The city is still in the due diligence process for buying the Phoenix and there has been no final determination yet if they will go through with the purchase. 

A slowly developing area or a hub of resources?

While the rest of downtown Boise boomed, the area along Americana Boulevard, 17th Street and River Street stagnated. 

The area is cut off from the rest of downtown by the I-184 Connector and is largely populated with commercial property, largely undeveloped super blocks, and has little in the way of mixed-use development, like housing, restaurants, or other retail that would bring visitors to the area. It’s also long been home to Interfaith Sanctuary, the Boise Rescue Mission, CATCH, and Corpus Christi House Day Shelter. Nearby Cooper Court alley often serves as a gathering place for members of Boise’s unsheltered homeless community. 

The corner of Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive was once envisioned for a new stadium and mixed-use development for the Boise Hawks in 2018, but developers eventually moved their concept out of city limits after a 2019 ballot initiative would require approval from the voters for city funds to support a sports park. 

The area is part of the Shoreline Urban Renewal District, which was created in early 2019 with the idea of using it to develop the stadium and the area at large. Former Boise Planning & Development Director Derick O’Neil, who worked on creating the Shoreline district before leaving the city to become a developer, is working on a plan to transform the area in and around the intersection of Shoreline Drive and Americana Boulevard. He told BoiseDev last year he wants the City of Boise to make improvements to the neighborhood before his project can get off the ground. 

O’Neil’s company, River Shore Development, is owned by the Rebholtz family, which also controls Agri Beef. 

Midtown Boise
RiverShore Development is working to develop what it calls Midtown, in the area around Americana and Shoreline in Boise in a CCDC urban renewal area. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

In an interview with BoiseDev last month, Tom Rebholtz said the city should disperse homeless services throughout the city as suggested in the city’s comprehensive plan Blueprint Boise, instead of building a new day shelter right near Cooper Court where the other services are already located. 

“I don’t think (the city will) get development down here if it’s just all this throughout the neighborhood,” he said, gesturing to the neighborhood and its homeless services from the parking lot of the Phoenix building. “It needs to be spread out so people feel safe walking home from their job or coming home after dark.”

Chad Summervill, a board member of Corpus Christie House, sees things differently. He said his nonprofit has seen a steady climb in demand for people who need to stay out of the cold, heat, take showers, use the bathroom or have a “dignified” place to spend time during the day near Americana in the past few years. He didn’t have any specific details on the city’s plans for the day shelter, but he is supportive of a move to create more space for homeless services. 

“The number of people needing services is showing an upward trend,” he said. “Not doing something is putting your head in the sand. So the fact that the city is doing something, I applaud.”

Business owners raise concerns 

George Iliff and his wife Cathy Iliff own property in the neighborhood, which they were hoping would redevelop with investment from business owners. 

But, they say interactions their customers have with some members of the homeless community are hurting their business and making it difficult to rent commercial space in the area. They say the Boise Police Department doesn’t have a heavy enough presence in the area to address their concerns, and they want to see more enforcement

“The (city) council people don’t spend any time here,” George Iliff said. “They say they’ve done ride-alongs, but that’s a whole different thing than opening your trash can lid and finding feces in it or having to lock our doors because people in the middle of our classes will bust in to use the restroom or want to harass people.”

Cathy Iliff, who owns the fitness studio CoreStrong on Americana Boulevard, said she regularly has litter in front of her business, and interactions from the homeless community impact her studio. She believes if the city adds another day shelter, it will only create more problems in the neighborhood for herself and others. 

Green Acres Food Truck Park
Green Acres Food Truck Park will go up along the Boise River Greenbelt at Shoreline Dr. and 14th St. Courtesy Green Acres Food Truck Park

“If my kids were still at home, there’s no way I’d let them hang out at the skatepark even though it’s a prime thing for kids,” she said. “…I would never feel comfortable with that, and the more they create these shelters, all it’s doing is creating more drugs. If there are no rules, then I don’t know who they would get to work there if everyone coming in was high on drugs. I don’t want to be around that.”

Annie Frampton, owner of Green Acres Food Truck Park and resident of the area, said she regularly sees cups of pee around the neighborhood, unsheltered families in the area, and has had people break into her barbecue grill in the winter, likely to try and stay warm in colder months. 

“I have a ton of anecdotal stories of how it’s affected our business and just living in the area,” she said. “We have ports potties for our business. We’ve found syringes in there, and they’ve been broken into six times, and we have to pay (to have it fixed). We lock them at night, and if someone really wants to use the restroom they just break open the lock.”

City: ‘It’s our job’ to provide homeless services 

This is about more than just nearby business owners and redevelopment in the neighborhood for the City of Boise. 

Maureen Brewer, the city’s senior housing and community development manager, said the city has an important role to play as the lead agency for Our Path Home, the network of organizations and nonprofits working on addressing homelessness, in ensuring everyone has access to services in the city. While emergency shelters like Interfaith Sanctuary and Boise Rescue Mission serve an important role for people experiencing homelessness, she said it’s also important to provide day services for those who are living outside of the shelter or those who cannot stay inside the shelter during the day, as well.

“What led us to want to purchase the building there on Americana is rooted in the fact that there are insufficient daytime services for people experiencing homelessness in that area, and we know that is where people experiencing homelessness spend time during the day,” she said. “It’s our job and our charge to ensure we have adequate services across that entire continuum of care.”

In response to Rebholtz’s argument that the city shouldn’t be placing all of its homeless services in one area, Our Path Home Manager Casey Mattoon said studies show if you want to serve the homeless community, you need to put services where they already are, or the resources will not get used. They pointed to an initiative over the summer where the city tried several smaller cooling stations around downtown for people who needed to get out of the heat, which had less than 19 visitors, compared to more than 400 users at the warming shelter at the Phoenix over the most recent winter. 

“While folks might say a spreading out would make sense to them, we know through experience that for day shelter explicitly it is about proximity to where those folks are spending their day to day lives,” Mattoon said. 

Brewer also pushed back on Rebholtz and George Iliff’s argument that putting a new day shelter violates a provision of Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan. She said the city’s goal with purchasing the Phoenix building is to provide services and meet marginalized communities where they are in the neighborhood they were pushed into, which isn’t out of alignment with the city’s stated goals and vision in the comprehensive plan. 

She said selecting individual passages out of Blueprint Boise, which is not city code, to make an argument against a homeless services project or development is a common tactic for those in opposition to change. 

“The playbook gets a little tired when you default to ‘let me cherry pick a plan that might suffice to say this doesn’t belong here’,” she said. “If we were to revert to the opinions only of property owners and neighbors, the fact of the matter is there is nowhere in the city of Boise that is raising their hand to welcome this community and ensure they have access to services they need.”

Why $1.55 million?

City spokesperson Maria Weeg says the owner of the building, Jason Williams, approached the city about selling the building. 

The city entered into negotiations to purchase it for $1.55 million, which Weeg said is roughly $500,000 less than the price Williams originally proposed when negotiations began. This is more than a million higher than the building’s $452,000 assessed value calculated by the Ada County Assessor’s Office for 2022. 

Weeg said the city was happy to hear the owner approached the city to sell them the building. The purchase will also be largely covered by a Community Development Block Grant, which comes through the state of Idaho through the federal government, instead of property tax revenue. 

“In commercial real estate, off-market opportunities are very typical and provide an advantage to the buyer (because) of the lack of open competition,” she told BoiseDev in an email. “We were excited to be able to move on this opportunity and come to agreeable terms with the owner.”

To determine a fair purchase price for the building, Weeg said the city used an appraisal process studying both potential income the building could bring in and compared it to comparable sales. She said CATCH, which currently rents the building for office space while its headquarters is being remodeled, rents the building for $6,000, which is slightly below fair market rent for downtown Boise. Weeg said the city used this figure to calculate the return someone who owns the building could make using several factors like the tenant, possible lease agreements, improvements to the building, its leasability, and location. 

The city also compared comparable sales to the entire downtown core where buildings are selling for roughly $200 a square foot, Weeg said. She said both this analysis and the income-based approach arrived at $1.55 million as a fair purchase price for the building. 

Rebholtz and George Iliff, who used to be in management at brokerage firm Colliers before he retired, dispute the price. Both say they ran their own calculations on the property and say if you look at only rents and comparable sales in the immediate area instead of all of downtown, the building would sell for hundreds of thousands less than the city is paying for it. 

Iliff also says if the building is sold for $1.55 million it will hike the assessed value on all of the surrounding properties, costing him, Rebholtz and Frampton more in property taxes. 

“The price they’re paying is stupid,” Iliff said. “It’s ridiculous. No appraisal is going to justify this kind of sales price.”

Urban renewal agency neutral

This is not the first time business owners have made concerns in this neighborhood known to the City of Boise. 

Last year, BoiseDev reported how landowners and business owners in the area, including Rebholtz and O’Neill, met with the city and Capital City Development Corporation for months about concerns with lacking streetscape design, poor lighting, and growing frustrations with impacts from people experiencing homelessness living out of cars and RVs on the blocks nearby. These meetings eventually led to a study to outline possible improvements for the 17th Street area by CCDC, Boise’s urban renewal agency. 

This study came out in August 2021 and noted the area’s close proximity to downtown, connectivity to the Greenbelt and desire from property owners for development partnerships as positives for the area. But, it also said the neighborhood doesn’t have any gathering spaces for the community to encourage socializing, there are inadequate streetscapes and the area needs a better mix of housing, retail and gathering places to improve it. 

Part of the study’s recommendations also included improving public safety through street improvements. 

While the study does have a section alluding to other plans and recommendations for the area, which include “looking to disperse the social services of the district outside of the area,” CCDC spokesperson Jordyn Neerdaels said the agency is neutral on the City of Boise’s plans to expand day shelter services in the area. 

A map of the study area examined by CCDC in its study. Courtesy of CCDC

“We don’t have an opinion on where the services are located or where a day shelter is located,” she said. “We’re neutral on the matter, and we’d follow whatever land use the city will want to recommend and support that with the type of public improvements to the infrastructure we can do.”

CCDC is looking at a few improvements in the area, including streetscape improvements with additional lighting from Shoreline Drive to where 17th Street dead ends as well as more connectivity to the Greenbelt from nearby offices. 

CCDC can only spend funds in the area that accumulates due to property values in the district rising, which limits the scale and size of projects possible in the area. The agency estimates it will be able to spend $2.8 million over the next five years, which is far less than the $20 million the agency plans to be able to spend in the Gateway East district. Both the Shoreline urban renewal district and Gateway East were created at the same time. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reflected George Iliff’s role at brokerage firm Colliers. It has been corrected to reflect that he is no longer a managing owner of the firm.

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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