As executive director at Capital City Development Corp., my work has significant influence on the growth and development of downtown Boise, the center for commerce and government in Idaho’s largest city. This position of influence means the agency is constantly collaborating and creating with other planning agencies, and always seeking the perfect blend, or mix, of uses within our districts. Although CCDC is not a regulatory entity that focuses on planning and zoning shifts and random suburban project applications, I often get this question: what are the merits of mixed-use development, and does it fit into a larger strategy for economic growth in the downtown area?
The larger strategy for economic development in the 700 acres of CCDC urban renewal districts includes a blend of mobility, residential, hospitality, retail and entertainment uses. In our analysis, the merits of mixed-use projects, or a similar array of connected projects that result in a dynamic and active neighborhood, is essential for a successful urban environment. In fact, CCDC has achieved an “18 hour city” in some small areas of our older districts. That is good for the health and vitality in the heart of city.
As a redevelopment agency, we’re primarily focused on projects that enhance economic growth and eliminate deteriorating and blighted properties. We work very closely every day with private sector developers, builders, entrepreneurs and thought leaders to bring ideas to reality. And CCDC works closely with the professionals at the city of Boise to understand and support the land use goals and neighborhood plan objectives. The shared belief is that a mix of uses adds to the stability and vitality throughout the city.
Two current initiatives at CCDC to support mixed use involve downtown housing, and downtown mobility.
In 2015, the agency commissioned and published a new downtown housing study to explore the aspiration of adding 1,000 new housing units by the year 2020. With little growth in this area over the past decade, the idea was to provide data for developers and investors and facilitate growth. It worked. The project continues gathering momentum and mixed use success, with nearly all the residential projects including a retail or restaurant component.
Some of the 300 new housing units underway are the result of our proactive CCDC-driven projects using an RFP process, such as our mixed-use residential housing, The Afton condominiums, and the upcoming Watercooler apartments redevelopment. Other projects found traction with market demand and will add to the mosaic of housing options.
The most timely and serious threat to sustaining downtown success is parking, a key to successful growth in any urban setting. Recent reports suggest that demand for weekday daytime parking is projected to exceed supply by more than 500 spaces based on the pace of development by 2017. The private and public parking garages have been instrumental in creating a walkable, dense, active and vibrant mixed-use downtown. But structured parking is only part of the solution for a healthy, modern and balanced urban mobility system in a mixed-use environment.
Among the current planning efforts are the City of Boise’s Transportation Action Plan; CCDC/Boise City’s Strategic Parking Plan; Ada County Highway District’s Downtown Boise Implementation Plan; and Valley Regional Transit’s Regional Transportation Development Plan. All plans envision a future where “parking demand reduction” is achieved by parking management strategies and practical alternatives to driving and parking downtown. Practically, this should lead to more options to bike, walk, and ride or drive safely, comfortably and conveniently.
If there is no access to reasonable parking and no alternatives, people don’t show up. The warnings come from many sources, including baseball great and philosopher Yogi Berra, who once said of popular restaurant “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Fortunately, we have the time and vision to avoid major pitfalls. Together, the public and private interests improving downtown Boise can reposition the role of parking to support mixed uses, and do so in the larger context of a shared multimodal future.
Although we only control 28 percent of downtown’s monthly parking spaces, CCDC is identifying ways to improve our usage of existing parking spaces. Plans are in the works to convert 400 spaces across four of our six downtown parking garages from hourly to monthly – during the daytime only, and only on weekdays – as a first step. This move is the equivalent of constructing a new parking garage, but without the cost. The result will be an immediate benefit to new business looking to find parking for an influx of employees, yet still allow hourly users to occupy spaces not in immediate use by the larger workforce.
That would only be the beginning of an overall plan for repositioning parking in the next phase of downtown Boise’s development. To realize this plan, public and private sector leaders will work together to:
• Maximize use of all existing parking spaces in and around downtown Boise. This means allocating the correct parking ratios for different user groups, coordination with private parking lots, planning for special events and, potentially, use of spaces outside of downtown with shuttle services.
• Increase the amount of alternative transportation available to downtown. Ride-sharing, carpooling and support for development guidelines.
• Coordinate parking rates among stakeholders to incentivize the most efficient usage by drivers.
• Budget space for more parking across a wide variety of developments in and around downtown.
There are plans in place at CCDC to address, in part, all of the described pieces of this strategy and more. We are working to gain consensus among stakeholders, because despite its easily recognizable parking structures, CCDC only operates 15 percent of the estimated total 17,000 available spaces in downtown Boise, including monthly and hourly options.
Within the boundaries of CCDC’s districts we are approaching becoming an 18-hour city. Ready or not, every sector of growth will be bringing more people and more cars to downtown Boise in an array of uses — all good for downtown Boise. Modernizing our transportation, parking, and circulation plans with a holistic approach using a “mixed use” of transit modalities will assure the next chapter of prosperity in downtown Boise.
John Brunelle is executive director of Capital City Development Corporation. The redevelopment agency oversees investment in four districts spanning 700 acres in downtown Boise.