Boise’s first urban renewal district rides off into the sunset

Teya Vitu//July 17, 2018

Boise’s first urban renewal district rides off into the sunset

Teya Vitu//July 17, 2018

Eighth Street became a flourishing dining venue after Capital City Development Corp. widened sidewalks and added trees and bike racks. Photo by Teya Vitu.

In 30 years, the downtown core of Boise has evolved from what was famously described in Harper’s magazine as “an exceedingly tidy bombing raid” to a city that magazines now routinely rank in the Top 10 or Top 20 best this-or-that.

At the heart of this transformation is the Central District urban renewal district, which has been overseen since 1989 by the Capital City Development Corp., the city’s redevelopment agency.

CCDC over 30 years invested $60 million in parking garages, infrastructure and sidewalk amenities. Those, in turn, attracted private investments to take the estimated value of all property in a 10-block downtown core from $31 million in 1989 to the current $370 million, according to CCDC.

The agency built the Grove Plaza and created the Eighth Street restaurant row. It still owns the plaza and Eighth Street between Main and Bannock streets. CCDC built four public garages in the Central District and played an instrumental role in the creation of Boise Centre, Eighth and Main, the Clearwater Building, The Grove Hotel and CenturyLink Arena, and BoDo.

The Central District has a 30-year life span that expires Sept. 30. After that, property taxes that have gone to CCDC since the tail end of the Reagan Administration will be distributed back to Ada County, the city of Boise,  Boise School District, Ada County Highway District, College of Western Idaho, Emergency Medical Services District and Ada County Mosquito Abatement District.

No more redevelopment dollars will go to projects between Ninth Street and Capitol Boulevard (plus the Boise City Hall block) and Bannock to Front (plus a half block into BoDo).

At that time, CCDC will convey ownership of Grove Plaza and two blocks of Eighth Street to the city of Boise. This will be the only piece of roadway under city control.

CCDC will keep ownership of the garages at Ninth and Main, Ninth and Front, Capitol and Main, but the agency is trying to sell the Capitol and Front garage under The Grove Hotel because it generates only about 5 percent of CCDC’s parking revenue, CCDC Executive Director John Brunelle said.

CCDC will relinquish ownership of Grove Plaza and Eighth Street because the agency will have no designated urban renewal revenue, known as tax increment financing, to maintain and operate the two properties. The garages, however, generate income and the money is not restricted to the Central District.

“Parking dollars know no bounds,” said Ross Borden, CCDC’s finance and administration director. “They can be spent anywhere.”

Parking revenue is still paying off bonds that built all six CCDC garages – two of them outside the Central District.

Adding a protected bike lane on Capitol Boulevard is along the last projects for the Central District urban renewal district. Photo by Teya Vitu.

CCDC’s closing acts in the Central District include creating the protected bike lane on Capitol Boulevard from Main to Bannock; the recently completed Eighth Street tree and irrigation replacements; also recently completed Freak Alley improvements; the recently opened new City Hall Plaza and assisting with the Capitol Terrace makeover into  Main + Marketplace.

Brunelle expects a remaining balance of $2,096 as the district expires Sept. 30 after launching the closing year with $9.9 million.

“CCDC feels it didn’t leave any opportunities or money on the table in the Central District,” Brunelle said.

CCDC widened many sidewalks to enable sidewalk dining and also added trees and bike racks.

“I think they have done a pretty amazing job enhancing the environment for us to be successful,” said Dan Balluff, owner of City Peanut Shop and former president of the Downtown Boise Association. ”I don’t know if the city could have ever afforded it. CCDC really thought it out and listened to constituents. It’s all quality stuff.”

Central District satisfaction

The Central District urban renewal district brought downtown Boise the Eighth and Main tower (Zions Bank), the Clearwater Building (behind trees) and Capitol Terrace (left), along with widening sidewalks for outdoor dining. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Brunelle noted that the Central District has a completed feel to it; no obvious gaps remain. He also noted substantial projects developed in the past six years, none more so than the Eighth and Main tower that filled what had been known as the Boise Hole for 25 years.

“This was a 30-year district,” Brunelle said. “All new districts can only be 20 years. We have to work with that in other districts.”

Mayor David Bieter has been in office for half the life of the Central District, since 2011 also serving as a CCDC commissioner. Without prompting, Bieter also addressed the limitations the Legislature put on urban renewal zones in 2016. At that time, the Legislature limited districts to 20 years and limited districts to projects identified at the start date.

“We would not have the downtown we have without the Central District,” said Bieter, elaborating that the 30-year span was vital as tax increment revenue can be fickle, such as the 2007-08 downturn plaguing the Central District. “The downturn was really rough. In order to get the capital you need to be transformative; it takes some time to accumulate. We’ve created one of the most vibrant urban centers in the western states.”

But Bieter firmly believes urban renewal districts have a distinct lifespan.

It’s important that people see these districts sunset,” the mayor said. “It’s a tool for a particular time.”

More urban renewal districts

The conclusion of the 34-acre Central District does not spell the end of the Capital City Development Corp. CCDC has  another 733 acres in three other active urban renewal districts in the southern three-fourths of downtown and across the city-branded West End of downtown to Whitewater Park Boulevard.

CCDC’s River Myrtle urban renewal district, stretching from Broadway to Americana Boulevard, expires in 2025; Westside, which runs mostly from Ninth to 16th streets and from Grove to State/Washington/Franklin streets, end in 2026. The 30th Street district continues to 2033 and addresses the Main/Fairview corridor west of Grove on both sides of The Connector.

CCDC is also assembling a new Shoreline District along River Street and including the Lusk District. Beyond that, Brunelle is considering new urban renewal districts on The Bench, possibly along Vista Avenue, and/or the petroleum tank farm in the Curtis, Franklin, Emerald area.

The Westside is prime hunting ground for redevelopment.

“There is a lot of opportunity there with surface parking lots,” Brunelle said. “If you look at the 10 blocks (of Central District) that is sunsetting, you don’t see (surface lots).”

Back in 1986. except for the U.S. Bank Plaza tower, the four blocks bounded by Front, Capitol, Ninth and Main were a dirt lot. Dozens of historic structures were cleared a decade earlier for a long-planned shopping mall that never materialized.

The Capital City Development Corp. is an independent government agency, established by the city, with the mayor appointing the CCDC Board of Commissioners, currently including three City Council members.

“This was Idaho’s first urban renewal district,” Brunelle said. “We think that we used it effectively.”