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Report lays out obstacles to tearing down Qwest Arena

Tearing down Qwest Arena to build new convention space in downtown Boise would be “extremely difficult to accomplish and potentially cost prohibitive,” a new report concludes.

The Greater Boise Auditorium District‘s board of directors heard a summary of the report during a meeting Dec. 13.

The board wanted a professional analysis of a recent proposal to demolish the arena and build a new event center on the site, adjacent to the existing Boise Centre.

District leaders have been plotting for more than a decade to construct more meeting space downtown so the city can attract more national conventions and the tourist dollars they bring.

Downtown developers and brokers derided the most recent plan after it was floated by director Stephenson Youngerman during a November brainstorming session. Some fretted that the site was too logistically impractical and small, while others worried about displacing several hundred thousand Idaho Steelheads and Stampede fans from downtown every year.

The study, conducted by architect Neil Hosford and Lochsa Engineering, highlighted structural concerns associated with the plan.

New construction on top of the site’s two-story underground parking garage would require a new foundation and footing structure, while the attached Grove Hotel would present other structural risks. A new building would be limited to only 55,000 square feet of space, compared to an extra 85,000 square feet that would be possible through expansion of the Boise Centre.

Youngerman said he still believes it’s worth exploring the idea, particularly because expansion of the Centre would require closing the facility for at least a year.

“I’m one of the people that thinks many of these obstacles can be overcome,” he said.

Block 22, the group that owns the arena, first approached the district four years ago to explore a sale, but the talks ultimately ended with an impractical $10 million price tag.

At the time, the arena was losing $500,000 annually , and the figure has only grown since then, Youngerman said. The owners began approaching him again about a year ago, he said.

Youngerman said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter – through a representative – also made it clear that he wouldn’t support any new convention center plans until the concept of overhauling Qwest Arena had been “thoroughly mined.”

“The district has never on its own initiative sought to purchase Qwest Arena,” Youngerman said. “The initiative for that has always come from the arena people themselves.”

During the Dec. 13 meeting, the auditorium district board agreed to pay David Wali and George Iliff of Colliers International $2,500 to gauge the current level of interest from Block 22 ownership.

About Simon Shifrin