With stadium proposal, the clock is ticking

Teya Vitu//December 18, 2017

With stadium proposal, the clock is ticking

Teya Vitu//December 18, 2017

What gets lost Teya Vitu headshotin the proposed downtown Boise stadium chatter is that professional soccer is the driver for the entire project. It’s a stadium first, surrounded by offices, commercial space and apartments.

Stadium opponents want the city to take more time before a stadium decision is made. And now Mayor David Bieter wants all parties to consider moving the stadium project from the Shoreline and Americana location that has been under planning for more than a year to the site that College of Western Idaho bought at Main Street and Whitewater Park Boulevard.

But proponents of the stadium don’t have the luxury of time. If Boise wants a professional soccer team playing in a league just one rung below Major League Soccer, the country’s top-level soccer league, they need to make some decisions.

United Soccer League is very keen on Boise, based on high and enthusiastic turnout for three pro soccer matches in the Treasure Valley in the past two years. Stadium developer Chris Schoen believes USL soccer would be a bigger draw than the Boise Hawks baseball team that he co-owns and that would share the stadium with soccer.

The time crunch for a stadium is this: USL has announced that the league’s last expansion would field teams in spring 2020, which comes with a USL requirement for a commitment by early 2018 to have a suitable soccer stadium ready for 2020.

Schoen says he has “wiggle room” from USL to pay a $1 million-plus deposit to USL to secure a team and show a firm community commitment to the project.

“The timelines are very, very tight,” Schoen told the Idaho Business Review on Dec. 8. “If we’re going to consider a new proposal, we have to have everything buttoned up in a hurry. We need additional land area (beyond CWI’s acreage) to accomplish critical mass to sustain the process (create tax revenue to pay off an expected $26 million in public bonds to finance stadium construction)… We need to have something buttoned up in the next 30 days if this is going to be something viable.”

An unnamed party in the first days of December presented Bieter with the idea of having CWI swap its land for the St. Luke’s Business Center property that is a former Kmart building. Bieter found the idea viable enough to float it to CWI President Bert Glandon on Dec. 5. CWI purchased its 10-acre parking lot on Boise’s West End two years ago to use as a main campus, but hasn’t built there yet.

“I love the Americana site for the ballpark,” Bieter said. “For me, the biggest thing is CWI.”

The concept intrigues Glandon. The defeat of a $180 million bond election in November 2016 shelved construction for “probably four to five years” of new buildings at the school’s Nampa campus and the proposed Boise campus at Whitewater Park Boulevard.

“If there is something we can get done with somebody to talk about, yeah, let’s sit down and talk,” said Glandon, adding that a 30-day window is possible. He added no details have been presented to him or the CWI Board of Trustees.

Even Schoen sees community value in moving CWI to the St. Luke’s location, which already has buildings in place that the college could use.  The big question is can a property swap and reconfiguring Schoen’s stadium-commercial-office-retail project quickly enough for USL to award a soccer team to Boise?

Schoen hasn’t ruled it out, and the college appears willing to come to the table. So far, all St. Luke’s Health System, which owns the Shoreline and Americana property, is willing to say is: “There continue to be conversations in the community about the proposed sports park development. What I can tell you is that the Shoreline property is under contract with Greenstone (Schoen’s development company) and we are working to conclude the transaction.”

Bieter insists he is not forcing a stadium move, that there is no threat that the city’s proposed $3 million for stadium construction or the estimated $26 million bond from the Capital City Development Corp. would be withdrawn if the stadium project does not move to Whitewater Park Boulevard.

“We just want to give it time to give it a chance,” said Bieter, acknowledging that the time window is quite small.

On the opposing side, a group called the Concerned Boise Taxpayers challenges publicly financing a stadium for the “highly speculative and risky” prospect of landing a pro soccer team.

USL President Jake Edwards has told the Idaho Business Review the league is only waiting for a local commitment to a stadium to award Boise a team.

Edwards attended the USL match in Meridian in 2016 and saw for himself the overflow crowd at Rocky Mountain High School for the game between the Portland and Kansas City Minor league teams. Edwards also kept close tabs on the Basque Soccer Friendly in 2015 that drew 22,000 people to Albertsons Stadium to see Athletic Bilbao and Club Tijuana play in the first international soccer match in Idaho. And he’s aware of the recent indoor soccer international match between the U.S. and Brazil that sold out CenturyLink Arena with only a few days’ notice.

I attended all three of those matches. Boise no doubt is a soccer town. The nation became soccer-savvy in the 2010s, with soccer-specific stadiums built around the country. Boisterous fans now fill soccer stadium in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere.

Boise could also have a thriving pro soccer scene – if a stadium proceeds in a timely manner.

Teya Vitu writes about real estate and construction for the Idaho Business Review.