Stadium supporters and detractors square off at GBAD board meeting

Teya Vitu//October 26, 2017

Stadium supporters and detractors square off at GBAD board meeting

Teya Vitu//October 26, 2017

Greater Boise Auditorium District Chairman Jim Walker noted he has not seen such a large crowd at a GBAD board meeting. The board was hosting presentations in favor and against a downtown stadium. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Greater Boise Auditorium District Chairman Jim Walker noted he has not seen such a large crowd at a GBAD board meeting. The board was hosting presentations in favor and against a downtown stadium. Photo by Teya Vitu.

For people involved in soccer, a downtown Boise stadium is a must-have.

But for the Concerned Boise Taxpayers, there are deep reservations about investing public money in the project, a proposed soccer/baseball stadium at Shoreline Drive and Americana Blvd. The group is also concerned about parking, traffic, noise and lighting.

The president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association and former CEO of Albertsons Inc. presented contrasting views Oct. 26 at the Greater Boise Auditorium District board meeting on stadium. Greenstone Properties proposes a 5,500-seat stadium that would include surrounding office, retail and residential components.

“This is just a hig- risk project and the wrong place,” said Gary Michael, the former Albertsons boss leading the Concerned Boise Taxpayers. “We feel strongly this project has no place for the District. We are opposed to any public funding. I hope you do your homework and understand the high risk.”

Greenstone Properties has made no formal requests for funding from GBAD, the city of Boise or the Capital City Development Corp. It is anticipated CCDC would issue a bond to pay for the estimated $40 construction cost of the stadium. Repayment would come from $1 million annual lease payments by Agon Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team.

GBAD has not given any consideration to a dollar amount. The district considered a $5 million investment toward a stadium a few years ago, before Agon Sports bought the Hawks.

“Nobody has come to us asking for $5 million to do this (downtown stadium),” GBAD Executive Director Pat Rice told the Idaho Business Review.

GBAD Chairman Jim Walker backed a stadium when he ran for office.

“The sports park fits the mission for what the District stands for,” Walker said. “As a concept, I’m in support.”

The city of Boise has earmarked $3 million for a downtown stadium in its five-year capital improvement plan, city spokesman Mike Journee said.

“There has not been any appropriation,” Journee said. “It’s still up in the air what amount we’re talking about and when. The developer has not brought a proposal.”

The Concerned Boise Taxpayers have been vocal in the past month, attending the three City of Boise open houses about the stadium and mixed-use project in October at the Boise Centre, Payette Brewing and City Hall.

The open houses offered a stadium survey to participants with the same survey available online and via email.

Residents turned in 906 surveys with 727 online, 152 at the open houses and 27 by email, Journee said.

He added that 76 percent had positive feedback, 22 percent negative and 2 percent neutral.

Boise is a soccer town

Bill Taylor, president for seven years of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association, said a huge number of the online surveys came from soccer enthusiasts. He spoke at the GBAD meeting on behalf of the Better Boise Coalition, a collection of private and public officials that banded together six years ago to promote building a downtown stadium.

“The rhetoric has been that this is a massive project, a massive stadium,” Taylor said. “This is akin to going to a high school football game. To think of parking problems and traffic problems is kind of silly. High school football fields have lights not conducive to neighborhoods.”

The Boise stadium design calls for a sunken field and bleacher overhangs to keep most noise and lighting contained within the stadium, Greenstone managing director Chris Schoen has previously said.

The stadium would primarily serve the Boise Hawks and a projected USL minor league soccer team in a league just one level down from Major League Soccer. The USL in past interviews has said it is eager to place a team in Boise. Along with the two teams, the stadium is being promoted as a site for community events.

“IYSA will use it for championship games. High schools will use it for championship games,” Taylor said. “To me, this is a unique project, not one typical across the country.”

Michael said there have been meetings among government entities and Greenstone in the past couple years that were out of the public view. He said the project was assembled without public involvement.

Taylor dismissed that notion. He said the soccer community banded together to get Kristin Muchow elected to the GBAD board this year.

“The people want this,” Taylor said. “The soccer community came out. The thought of taxation without representation is a silly thought.”

One of the leaders of Concerned Boise Taxpayers is Bill Ilett, former managing partner of Idaho Stampede, the NBA D-League basketball team that moved out of Boise in 2016. Michael had made a reference to the difficulties of operating the Stampede and the Hawks.

Taylor said soccer enthusiasm is growing exponentially in America. Even in Boise, the three high-profile matches in the past two years (the Basque Friendly, the USL and the indoor international friendly) drew large crowds.

“Look at the (soccer) fan base in Portland and Seattle,” Taylor said. “That’s the fan base we have. This is not D League basketball.”

An Austin, Texas, urban renewal and economic development consultant said the plan to build a downtown Boise soccer and baseball stadium with public financing is “highly speculative and risky.”

Sean Garretson
Sean Garretson

“As an urban planner, I love the concept,” said Sean Garretson, owner of Pegasus Development planning and development company. “What can the market support (in regard to the proposed housing, retail and office components)? It’s a question I have.”

Garretson was hired by a group called Concerned Boise Taxpayers in early October to look over the city’s feasibility study for the 5,000-seat stadium and office, residential and commercial complex. Concerned Boise Taxpayers is opposed to the stadium plan.

The project would be a public-private partnership with the city of Boise and Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties.

Garretson acknowledged his analysis is based on limited information. He toured the area where the stadium is proposed on a bicycle Oct. 26-27 during a two-day visit to Boise. He has worked on three Meridian projects: an economic development strategy; a housing study; and a study for a downtown multi-purpose performance center. He wrote also a strategic plan for College of Western Idaho.

The Concerned Boise Taxpayers and Garretson don’t see any certainty that the Boise Hawks and a potential United Soccer League high-tier minor league professional soccer team will deliver the financial success to pay off the bond for the stadium. “Is it a given the Boise Hawks will have an attendance increase? I don’t know,” said Garretson, a former vice chairman of the Austin Urban Renewal Authority. “USL, they don’t have that. It’s very speculative.”

Of studying the stadium proposal, Garretson said, “It’s been a struggle getting the documents we requested. I really think the city should be much more open on this thing. I’m shocked at how much is redacted. This is information that should not be redacted.”

Boise city officials rejected the idea that information was withheld improperly.

“Often in economic development deals, a redaction or denial of records is not uncommon,” said Nic Miller, the city’s economic development director. “Open records law says proprietary information can and should be redacted.”

Miller noted there has been no formal proposal for the stadium.

The 30-team United Soccer League, just one rung below Major League Soccer, has closely monitored Boise’s bid to land a team.

“Boise remains a desired market for the next and final phase of USL Expansion,” USL spokesman Leonardo Santiago said in an email. “At this time, USL approval primarily hinges on a successful outcome for the stadium development project under consideration.”

Boise must meet professional soccer Division II standards for fan and player atmosphere.

“We believe the proposed stadium project in Boise meets and exceeds that criteria,” Santiago said.

As for paying off stadium construction bond debt, Miller stressed that the far larger share of bond payments would be made by Greenstone’s accompanying, privately funded, mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium.

“We looked at a lot of deals similar to this,” Miller said. “One of the things we found, the way this is structured, if the private development does not get built, the sports park doesn’t get built.”

Information about Concerned Taxpayers consultant Sean Garretson was added to the end of the story Oct. 31, 2017.