Downtown revivals are in play in communities across the Treasure Valley

Teya Vitu//August 16, 2016

Downtown revivals are in play in communities across the Treasure Valley

Teya Vitu//August 16, 2016

Pedestrians in downtown Boise.
Pedestrians in downtown Boise. In the last seven months, construction has started on three new downtown hotels with a combined 449 rooms. Photo by Pete Grady.

Boise’s downtown is buzzing with hotel, housing and office construction

Downtown revitalization in Boise has matured in phases for the past 30 years. A new phase started with the rise of the Eighth and Main Tower, a phase that is focused largely on sleeping: housing and hotels.

“Eighth and Main reminded people that anything is possible,” said John Brunelle, executive director of the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency. “It gave more belief in the future of downtown Boise.”

People living in cities’ downtowns are nationally acknowledged as a key component to downtown revivals and one that had eluded Boise’s renaissance until now.

Just in the past seven months, construction has started on three new downtown hotels with a combined 449 rooms, and three condo/apartment projects with 212 units also have crews at work with at least two more residential units likely to start construction this year.

“Without people, you have nothing,” Brunelle said. “You need people to have vibrancy and energy. It’s going to be an 18-hour city (with people living downtown). With the new hotels, we will have an ever-changing profile of people downtown.”

Office construction continues, too, with the J.R. Simplot Co. world headquarters heading toward its closing stages. Just across 11th Street from Simplot, the same team behind Eighth and Main now propose a six-story, 125,000-square-foot office building between Front and Myrtle streets.

City planners also are trying to change the definition of “downtown” to stretch from St. Luke’s Medical Center and Boise State University to Whitewater Boulevard (the former 30th Street), which city leaders are calling the West End.

“We want to make sure we make the most with the good times we’re having,” Mayor David Bieter said. “We want 1,000 more housing units by 2020. We want especially the West End to come along. That’s our housing opportunity.”

The Nampa Library.
The Nampa Library is part of a plaza that includes office space. It was completed in 2015 with urban renewal funding. Photo by Pete Grady.

Once abandoned, Nampa’s downtown is now busy

Nampa has invested the past dozen years reviving a downtown that had largely been abandoned for Karcher Mall and Boise Towne Square in the closing decades of the 20th Century.

The four cornerstones of the new downtown Nampa are a mix of new and historic. The city built the Hugh Nichols Public Safety Building in 2012 and added the Nampa Library Plaza with accompanying office space in 2015.

Since 2004, Nampa’s façade improvement program is dressed up  historic buildings with a mix of public and private funding.

The two signature historic restoration projects have been the Boise Fry Company reinvention of a former car showroom and the First Street Marketplace buildings, now home to Pre-Funk Beer Bar and Messenger Pizza & Brewery.

Downtown Nampa
Downtown Nampa. The Nampa Business Improvement District has worked with the National Main Street Center to attract shoppers and business owners back to the city center. Photo by Pete Grady.

“We did it with First Street Marketplace. Let’s do it some more times,” said Morgan Treasure, coordinator of the Nampa Business Improvement District.

The city is shopping more historic downtown buildings for investors to restore for new business ventures.

“The most important thing is the city and community came to an agreement for what worked and what is realistic for our downtown,” said Treasure, also director of Nampa’s Main Street programs in conjunction with the National Main Street Center. “We want downtown Nampa to be a hub for locals and entrepreneurs.”

Nampa in May unveiled a new life for Lloyd Square after converting a parking lot into a grassy field fed by new bicycle and pedestrian pathways that follow the railroad tracks.

The next step is to make downtown a hub for events drawing large crowds of people.

“Historically, people went to Boise and Meridian for restaurants and nightlife activities,” Treasure said. “If a different band played in the plaza every week, people will come back frequently.”

Downtown Meridian.
Downtown Meridian. The city put up signs highlighting the city’s historic downtown in April as part of a branding campaign. Photo by Pete Grady.

Meridian seeks a downtown for entrepreneurs

As Meridian awaits private sector interest in large-scale downtown redevelopment projects, the city and Meridian Development Corp. are sprucing up streets and buildings and attracting people downtown to set the table for a future revitalized historic downtown.

“We are working hard to put the infrastructure and bones in place in order to encourage private investment into downtown,” said Ashley Squyres, MDC’s administrator.  “I think we’re there.”

Meridian has upgraded its downtown the past decade by rerouting Main Street through-traffic onto Meridian Road; building a new city hall downtown; and bringing new headquarters downtown for Valley Regional Transit and the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho.

More recently, two long-vacant MDC-owned buildings were leased to the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater and unBound – a makerspace collaboration with the Meridian Library. Sitting vacant for a number of years, MDC bought the children’s theater and unBound buildings in 2008-09 to lease or sell, but a 2012 request for proposals did not receive any proposals.

“Both tenants are creating a dynamic energy,” Squyres said.

UnBound and the New Ventures Lab, a business incubator occupying the former city hall building, are the passions of Mayor Tammy de Weerd’s tenure since 2004, which spans nearly the entire life of the MDC that was launched in 2002.

“We are focusing on entrepreneurship and creating a sense of place,” de Weerd said.  “It is really supporting the entrepreneurial spirit.”

But so far, grand private sector projects haven’t taken hold in downtown Meridian.

“We have not had anyone interested in (major) development,” Squyres said. “We have not seen any major new construction (other than city hall and COMPASS/VRT) … . My vision for downtown is a larger version of Hyde Park you find in north Boise with a civic and cultural presence.”

Downtown Kuna.
Downtown Kuna. The city is using a Community Development Block Grant for downtown improvements that includes new sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, benches, trees and corner bulb-outs. Photo by Pete Grady.

Kuna readies downtown for the city’s growth

The idea with Kuna’s downtown revitalization is to serve as the destination for a recently emerging string of commercial activity centers from the Ridley’s Family Market at Deer Flat Road, around the Kuna Curve, where 46 acres of farmland await commercial development, and past the former Paul’s Market that is now Albertsons.

“They are providing a commercial trail that leads right into the heart of downtown,” said Troy Behunin, Kuna’s senior planner.

As Idaho’s No. 14 biggest city anticipates potential growth into the Top 10, Kuna is swiftly maturing from a bedroom community to a full-fledged city with downtown an integral part of its new connect-the-dots commercial district.

The first phase of downtown improvements include new sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, benches, trees and corner bulb-outs on Main Street from Avenue E to Avenue C  and on Avenue E from Main to Fourth Street, City Clerk Chris Engels said.

Kuna has the budgeted $1,080,000 in place with funding from a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant, a $200,000 COMPASS grant and up to $200,000 in reimbursements from the Ada County Highway District.

A second phase will extend these Main Street streetscape improvements from Avenue C to the new roundabout at Main and Linder Avenue that was completed in May.

Safety plays a large role Kuna’s downtown revitalization as Main Street’s sidewalks are not ADA accessible.

“The roundabout makes it a much safer intersection,” Engels said. “We have many sidewalk deficiencies. We are putting in bulb outs at the pedestrian crossing to shorten the crossing of the street. Plus it serves as a traffic slower.”

Kuna launched its downtown improvements with 2014 downtown revitalization stakeholder assessment. The first revitalization project in 2014 was realigning a portion of Bridge Avenue and improving the pedestrian path on Bridge Avenue including having the sidewalk go across the railroad track.

Caldwell is banking on Trolley Square and The Plaza at Indian Creek

Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas has shepherded his downtown through transformation from ghost town to public focal point since taking office in 1998.

“When I became mayor, downtown was literally a ghost image of what it was when I was a child,” the mayor recalled. “The buildings were there but half of them were empty. We used to have throngs of people. Then it became just a few.”

The site of the
The site of the Indian Creek Plaza, a project expected to start in the fall that will include an ice skating rink, splash pad and sound stage. Photo by Pete Grady.

Downtown revitalization got a kickstart in 2006 with community buy-in to reveal three blocks of Indian Creek that had flowed under asphalt parking lots and buildings for decades.

“It has become a sense of place,” Nancolas said. “People take family pictures there.”

With the creek the anchor for Caldwell’s emerging downtown, the city now is gearing up for two of the defining projects for its future downtown: The Indian Creek Plaza and Trolley Square.

The city bought and tore down a former King’s Variety Store three years ago and since then envisioned the Indian Creek Plaza for the one-acre property. Construction should start in fall on an ice skating rink, splash pad and sound stage. Nancolas wants programming scheduled for the plaza at least 250 days a year.

Trolley Square is a partnership with Gardner Co., which proposes building an 11-screen Reel Theatres and two retail buildings at Main and Ninth streets.

Nancolas expects both Indian Creek Plaza and Trolley Square to be completed in fall 2017.

“I believe the plaza will be the center of activity and the cornerstone of downtown revitalization,” Nancolas said. “We believe these two projects will drastically change downtown Caldwell for the better.”

Downtown Eagle.
Downtown Eagle. The Eagle Urban Renewal Agency paid the owners of a long-vacant gas station to demolish it. EURA chairman Jeff Kunz, who is also city council president, said the best use of the area would be a mix of retail, office and residential.  Photo by Pete Grady.

Eagle’s half-vacant intersection awaits revival

Since late 2015, Eagle has had a blank slate on the south side of its main downtown intersection at State and Eagle to showcase whatever its emerging downtown revitalization produces. Mayor Stan Ridgeway even sees potential redevelopment for the block east stopping at the Eagle Hotel building.

“That entire block is prime for new development, except the hotel,” Ridgeway said, adding that the city owns the Eagle Historical Museum building in the middle of that block.

Across Eagle Road, the Eagle Urban Renewal Agency paid Rick and Sandy Smith $33,750 to demolish the long-vacant gasoline station, which happened in August, and offered an additional $33,750 if they start development of a new project or sell the property by Dec. 31. The property to the west of that has already been vacant.

“This area should focus on corner entry buildings, third story plazas and gardens that create a unique skyline and streetscapes should include retail, office and residential uses,” said City Council President Jeff Kunz, who is also EURA chairman.

Ridgeway sees mixed-use with retail on the ground floor.

“Above those you could have residential or office and they could have a terraced second floor with patios so it’s not just a straight wall,” the mayor said. “The overall goal is to preserve Eagle so it continues to have the quaint feel it has always had.”

Ridgeway hopes developers step forward with proposals so that some construction could start in 2017.

Just south of Main Street, the city in 2017 plans to connect two stubs of Plaza Drive to create a continuous route to link Eagle and Hill Roads. The undeveloped land is zoned commercial and used by the Eagle Rodeo.

“We haven’t discussed as a city what the best use would be,” Ridgeway said. “One of the ideas a developer has is to put some apartments in there.”