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The time is right for Boise Centre expansion

Robb Hicken

Robb Hicken

A tiny crack appeared in the ongoing discussion of expanding convention space downtown.

A proposal during a meeting of the Greater Boise Auditorium District on Nov. 14 piqued everyone’s interest and showed there might be a way to move forward on a project that has languished since 1996.

For years, the district and city officials have recognized the need for expansion. Study after study has shown the city is missing out on upper tier conventions because the space available does not accommodate them.

Hoteliers have bemoaned the fact that while room occupancy is doing well, greater demand would be welcome. Restaurateurs crave a larger venue that would bleed more dollars into the community.

Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Bobbie Patterson said she’s received countless inquiries over the years for major conventions, but Boise has little ability to attract that kind of event because the 85,000-square-foot Boise Centre is too small.

Wishing? Maybe, but the GBAD has done its homework.

While the board has failed to gain community support to pass a bond measure to pay for an expansion – a price tag of at least $40 million dollars for a hotel-convention center combination – it has taken the time to study the needs.

A recent study concluded the Boise Centre is a good place for meetings, banquets and social events, but is too small and poorly arranged. The study, released earlier this year, states the city could use an additional 78,000 square feet of exhibition/multi-purpose space alone. That’s nearly double what is offered.

The district’s latest plan to build a new $40 million hotel-convention center focuses on district-owned property between 11th and 13th streets, at the base of the interchange, and district officials have already recognized the distance between the Boise Centre and the location, plus the traffic – both pedestrian and vehicular – and noise.

They also understand the current location on The Grove is appealing to visitors. They have worked with Oppenheimer Cos. Inc., a Boise investment firm, to plan and secure a developer to build the new convention center and hotel.

But, again, a price tag of $40 million looms ominously overhead.

The Stampede and Steelhead sports teams would benefit immensely if they could attract a larger crowd of overnight conventioneers looking for something to do downtown. Of course, that’s only if they’re still there to take advantage.

A new opportunity, though, sprang out in the discussion, cracking the barrier.

Board member Stephenson Youngerman said Block 22 LLC, owner of Qwest Arena, may be willing to drop the price on the arena from what was proposed several years earlier.

Revamping Qwest Arena has a certain appeal when you begin looking at the larger picture for downtown Boise. But, keeping the sports teams downtown with their economic impact is crucial.

During its recent board meeting, GBAD explored four possible options to bringing more conventioneers to the Treasure Valley.

It’s time to sit at the table and knock this project out.

The Grove is a great location for a convention center, but not so good for a sporting facility. The district has a great start in its reserves and is one of three centers nationally that operates on a positive cash flow. It is booked close to capacity.

Major changes in Boise Centre’s marketing department may end up strengthening its position as a driving force to attract more conventions downtown.

An additional incentive is the construction costs. Materials are at an all-time low and jobs are being bid millions of dollars lower than anticipated.

It’s time to open this crack a little bit wider and let some light in on the expansion of the Boise Centre. Its growth will propel a healthy downtown.
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Robb Hicken is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.


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One comment

  1. Robb, don’t you know in Idaho you’re an apostate to argue for something this progressive, especially if it takes 1 nickel of public hard or ‘soft’ funding?

    On another note, I see where Dolan’s Business Information Division revenue continues to flat-line. At some point you guys are going to have to join the Idaho rebellion with some serious irreverent content (vs. the std boob status quo)…just to get readership. It’s a mathematical certainty.