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Tough road for proposed Hawks stadium

Supporters of a potential new Hawks stadium are now calling for progress by this summer, or the people of Boise could face consequences.

With the promise of losing the Cubs franchise and, if any hope of a new facility fades away, eventually losing baseball altogether, it’s time to look into the strategy laid out on Feb. 15 by the Better Boise Coalition and Boise Hawks general manager Todd Rahr.

The breakdown includes anywhere from $1.5 to $3 million from the Boise Hawks. After that, funding is up in the air. The Hawks hope to see some corporate donations and naming rights fees to cover some other parts of the estimated $20 to $25 million cost of the stadium.

Then, it’s up to the public sector. And here is where the real obstacles emerge.

Rahr was pretty clear on what public money supporters are after, saying “tax increment funding and a tax that would be taxing out-of-towners I think is the obvious way to go.”

Taxing out-of-towners is a reference to the revenues collected by the Greater Boise Auditorium District from a 5 percent tax on all rooms in hotels, motels and other lodgings. Years of revenue have given the district about $12 million in the bank for improvement projects.

That said, it’s unlikely the stadium will see much, or any, of it.

Pat Rice, auditorium district executive director, said the district board voted in December to earmark $9 million of the available funds for a new convention center, which has been a priority in the district for nearly two decades. Rice said that vote, which isn’t binding, was as much about sending a message as it was distributing funds.

“There was no ifs, ands, buts, maybes or baseball stadiums” in the board’s decision to allocate most of its revenue to another project, he said.

And Rice hasn’t heard anything from the Better Boise Coalition or Rahr, although he has been getting very familiar with rumors that the auditorium district will somehow be involved with a new stadium.

That leaves tax increment financing — usually called a TIF — to help fund the public side of the proposed public-private partnership for the stadium.

That type of financing allows the city to freeze the amount of property tax revenues it receives from within a TIF district and any increases in revenues resulting from higher property values go toward a redevelopment agency that can spend them on public infrastructure — like a city-owned stadium.

The proposed sites, at 27th and Fairview or 30th and Main, would have to be included in an urban renewal district to be eligible for a TIF. Since they aren’t now, the Boise City Council would have to approve the district before it is even an option.

Anthony Lyons, executive director of the Capital City Development Corp., the redevelopment agency that handles TIF funds in Boise, said the proposed sites fit into an area that could easily be classified as blighted, a distinction necessary for an urban renewal district designation. His organization has already been evaluating the sites to check the feasibility of the move.

If the area does get some TIF funding, the battle is still far from over. For a project like a stadium, TIF funding is generally used to back bonds sold to build the project right away. The bond is paid off during the life of the TIF, which can be more than two decades.

The key is to have enough revenue coming in to be able to make payments on the bonds or at least a pot of money that can cover parts of the payments in excess of the initial TIF revenues. Many TIF districts must wait years before property values grow enough to support a bond sale.

One thing that does work in favor of the stadium is that a mere designation for an urban renewal district, and the incentives that come with it, can increase property values by sparking development interest. The question is whether that initial spike in values will cover a bond big enough to handle a significant chunk of a new stadium’s cost.

The multi-use plan associated with a new stadium, including a minor league soccer team ready for use by 2013, should provide further incentive for developers to put a stake in the area. The added event days — Rahr said there could be as many as five times more than at Memorial Stadium — would make a restaurant or retail location nearby ideal. But developments take time and only a direct investment into the stadium can speed up a process that has a reckoning date.

Any route stadium supporters take is littered with pitfalls. The chances of making significant progress on the stadium in the next few months aren’t none, but they are slim.

For Cubs fans and baseball fans: keep your fingers crossed, but don’t hold your breath.

Sean Olson is a writer at Idaho Business Review.

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