After spending millions reimagining its downtown, Caldwell is missing only one thing: The people. But the city is hoping that a forthcoming mixed-use development will help with that.
“The goal is to revitalize downtown,” said Keri Smith-Sigman, economic development specialist for the city of Caldwell. She was hired in August after working in the Canyon County planning department for eight years, as well as working with and then serving as president of Destination Caldwell, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting the city. “With all the work I was doing for the redevelopment of Caldwell and branding efforts, the city ended up hiring me for economic development, which was awesome because I could put my focus where my heart is.”
In the past several years, Caldwell has been through a series of projects intended to revitalize it, including uncovering its Indian Creek area, which runs through town, and buying the Sundowner Motel – closed since 2010 — in hopes of turning the site into a park. And there’s some indication that the efforts are working. The city’s population is slowly growing, having reached 50,000 in 2015, and land values are rising, producing the urban renewal funding that is largely paying for the various projects.
Now the city is looking at mixed-use development to lure more people into its downtown, by working with developers to provide retail on the ground level and housing on upper levels. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of downtown living,” Smith-Sigman said. “If we are trying to create a vibrant, urban space downtown, we need a community of people who want to live in downtown. We don’t have that option really at all – just a few apartments in older historic buildings.”
In 2014, Destination Caldwell brought in Roger Brooks, an Arizona consultant who specializes in “turning communities into destinations.” Central to that, and crucial to slowing the leakage of locally earned money to communities such as Boise and Nampa, is creating a vibrant downtown Caldwell, he said.
“In downtowns, the ground floor should be primarily for restaurants and retail,” Brooks said. “The upper stories can be offices and condominiums. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a law office on the ground floor, but it should be retail-oriented.”
Plus, that retail needs to follow the “10-10-10 rule.” According to Brooks, a successful mixed-use development needs to have three things, within three linear blocks:
• Ten places that sell food. “I told Caldwell, if they had 30 restaurants downtown, they’d have people coming from 50 miles around.”
• Ten “destination” stores such as bookstores, galleries, and clothing stores.
• At least 10 of those 20 places have to be open after 6 pm. “Seventy percent of all consumer brick-and-mortar spending takes place after 6 pm,” Brooks said, noting that suburban malls are typically open until 9 and Walmart is open until midnight or 24 hours.
Right now, Caldwell doesn’t have that. “There’s 50,000 people in Caldwell, and downtown has three or four shops, and that’s it,” Brooks said. “Those businesses can’t survive by themselves. It’s like a mall with three stores in it.”
The city has also set its hopes on Trolley Square, a mixed-use development awarded to the Gardner Company, which also developed the Nampa Library and Boise’s Eighth & Main. Located on a single block at Ninth and Arthur, it’s intended to include four structures, including a two-story, 11-screen Reel movie theater, three retail pads, and a gathering place in the middle for mini concerts and other events, Smith-Sigman said. “It’ll be mixed use in the sense that it will have entertainment, the mini plaza, and a variety of uses,” but there could be office space on upper floors if Gardner ends up building beyond the ground floor, she said.
Gardner – the only company that submitted a proposal — was awarded the contract a couple of months ago, with demolition of the existing buildings on the site scheduled to be completed by the end of April, Smith-Sigman said.
How will Caldwell know whether this project is the one that’ll do the trick? “At the end of the day, we want a thriving downtown again,” Smith-Sigman said. “We have a high vacancy rate downtown. If we could get that under 5 percent, that’s when I’ll be happy. I love it when people tell us we’re going to have a parking problem. We want to have a parking problem.”