After years of relative quiet, developers have recently turned up the volume on plans for new housing projects in downtown Boise.
Around 1,500 apartments and condominiums are in some stage of the proposal or construction process. Downtown Boise will soon see many options for downtown living.
On June ninth, Idaho Business Review brought together five panelists with expertise in downtown housing, for a panel discussion.
John Brunelle, executive director, Capital City Development Corp.
Bryant Forrester, president, Urban Concepts
Gerald Hunter, president executive director, Idaho Housing and Finance Association
Wes Jost, senior vice president and regional director, Idaho Real Estate Banking Group, Zions Bank
Derick O’Neill, director, Boise Planning & Development
Defining the downtown core
One key thing we’re working hard to do is to create a shared vision for downtown. If you asked everyone in this room to define downtown, they would each give you a different answer.
In east Boise, think Whole Foods. To the west, think the Whitewater Park. To the south, think Boise State University, and to the north the YMCA and State Street. Those are the boundaries that we view in the downtown area.
We view it that way for two reasons. One is in our comprehensive plan for the downtown planning area, that’s how it’s defined. Two is we see an exciting and vibrant downtown incorporating all those elements. Just to put it in perspective, if any of you have been to Portland or Seattle or Denver – Whitewater Park is essentially equivalent to where the Pearl District would be in terms of distance, and yet it seems further away. As we start to define our downtown, we could talk about boundaries in variety of different ways, but the most important thing is we start talking about it in the same way.
Downtown used to be the Capitol building and maybe a small circle around there. My dad worked way over at the Federal building, which was just outside of downtown. But now it is downtown; it is changing. Our focus at CCDC is on the 700 acres we oversee. But we’re firmly aligned with the city in looking at an expanded downtown that goes from really the Armory building or St. Luke’s over to the whitewater park, and from Boise State University up to the foothills. That’s a pretty good description of the new downtown.
The downtown landscape is changing quite often. All that development in the Lusk Street neighborhood is creating incredible density and tying Boise State into the downtown corridor. We also have a big future in the new West End of downtown all the way to the Esther Simplot Park and all the high-density development that’s going to crop up there.
When I look at this from my perspective of affordable housing or housing that meets the needs of the service sector in the downtown core, downtown housing takes on a different perspective. It’s housing that’s going to connect people with the places they need to be in the downtown core or to neighborhoods that are connected to the downtown core.
You could be out near the boundaries that have just been defined and build a housing project, but if it’s as easy or easier for those folks to jump in their car and head out to the mall as it is to go downtown, I wouldn’t say that’s downtown housing. We have to look at the transportation corridors in a way in which you create housing so that it’s something that a tenant or consumer looks at it and says, “I have a preference to go downtown for recreation, meals, that kind of thing.” So that’s how I look at downtown housing.
If you looked at a project down at Whitewater and Main versus, say, Fifth and Main, I think you’re looking at different dynamics there in terms of walkability to downtown. From our standpoint, it’s all-inclusive. It’s a matter of distance to downtown, and it’s a matter of what are you charging for those units, because those two features are really strong indicators of what your project will do in terms of success.