Boise brothers Oppenheimer spark downtown revival in Idaho Falls

Teya Vitu//August 10, 2018

Boise brothers Oppenheimer spark downtown revival in Idaho Falls

Teya Vitu//August 10, 2018

The mixed-use redevelopment project The Broadway (rear) in downtown Idaho Falls will sit directly behind the city’s waterfalls. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Doug Oppenheimer and Philanthropist Steve Carr walked to breakfast a couple years ago in downtown Boise.

Carr, an Idaho Falls attorney, and Oppenheimer, president of Boise-based Oppenheimer Companies, had become friends while serving together on the board of the Boise State University Andrus Center for Public Policy.

“Doug, there’s a spot in Idaho Falls I want you to look at,” Carr recalls saying.

Just a few days later, Doug and his brother, Skip Oppenheimer, flew to Idaho Falls.

“When somebody of the caliber of Steve Carr says you have to take a look at something, you just go there, you do it,” recalls Doug Oppenheimer.

The Oppenheimers head up a national foods services and distribution company and a commercial real estate investment and development company.

Carr has lived off and on in Idaho Falls since he was born. Among his worldly ventures: he is only American elected to the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Geneva, Switzerland.

Back home in Idaho Falls, “I enjoy trying to connect the dots,” Carr said one July morning at La Vanilla Bean Patisserie, which sits across two streets from two historic renovation projects.

The Broadway in downtown Idaho Falls will have a three-story office building (rear), one-story retail building and a plaza in between. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Carr showed the Oppenheimers a .95-acre vacant lot at Broadway and Memorial Drive in the historic downtown.  It was once the site of the Savings Center bank and was still called the Savings Center property or Kelsch property after the family that owned the land.

Carr remembers one of the Oppenheimers saying “Holy Smokes.” Carr introduced the Oppenheimers to Idaho Falls Mayer Rebecca Casper, and right after that to the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency.

The Savings Center property sat across the street from the city’s riverfront Greenbelt and directly behind the short but wide waterfalls that give the city its name.

“I would hate to see that be Walgreens,” Carr said.

Carr and the Oppenheimers urged the city to buy the property and make it an urban renewal project. The redevelopment agency summarily did so for $1.5 million.

“The week after we closed on the property we got a call from a bank,” said Brad Cramer, the city’s community development director and also executive director of the redevelopment agency.

The city didn’t want a single-use like bank or Walgreens at that location. The city wanted a community focal point, a gathering spot with mixed uses.

IFRdA in (2016) issued a request for proposals for a mixed-use development including commercial, office and residential. It was a process open to anyone. Oppenheimer Development Corp. of Boise was the only party submitting a proposal.

Doug (standing) and Skip Oppenheimer.

“I don’t think a lot of local developers were striking out on their own,” Carr reasoned. “They have enough work from other owners. ‘We need a new high school,’ ‘We need a Costco.’ That spot is a little tricky for our western idea.”

The Oppenheimers ultimately dug out 25 million pounds of basalt for a 49-space underground garage. The project is their first in eastern Idaho.

Oppenheimer Development Corp., using McAlvain Construction of Boise as general contractor, started work on The Broadway in December. The project has a 27,000-square-foot, three-story office building at the rear and a one-story, 8,237-square-foot retail building along Broadway. There will be a 49-space underground garage and 22-space surface parking.

Carr, the Oppenheimers and project architect CSHQA of Boise set a plaza with a fountain between the buildings. The plaza will be an ice rink in winter.

The Broadway follows three basic rules for the Oppenheimers, and for Carr, a partner in the project.

“It has to be fun,” Carr said. “It has to give back to the community. It has to have positive cash flow. We wanted to make it a front door to downtown.”

The redevelopment agency sold the land upon which the buildings sit for $1, but the agency retains ownership of the plaza and underground garage. The property was assigned a zero-dollar fair-use appraisal for the type of project the city sought, Cramer said.

“We sold it to them for $1 as an incentive to get the property developed and pencil out,” Cramer said.

Idaho companies will fill The Broadway

The Broadway is 70 percent pre-leased  by Idaho Falls companies, with the exception of the Meridian-based Fin Concepts (Lucky Fins), which plans a Smokin Fins restaurant. The Oppenheimer brothers directly recruited Fin Concepts while having lunch at its Treasure Valley brand, Lucky Fins.

Bank of Idaho is moving its administrative office across the street into The Broadway; the law firm Parsons Behle & Latimer is moving from Snake River Landing; and The Idaho Falls-based Lucy’s Pizzeria, with four locations, will open its first downtown restaurant in The Broadway’s one-story building.

“The Oppenheimers are a gift to Idaho Falls,” said Catherine Smith, executive director of the Idaho Falls Development Corp, which advances downtown as a center for commerce, culture and leisure activities.

Doug Oppenheimer (left), Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, Steve Carr and Skip Oppenheimer at the groundbreaking for the mixed-use complex The Broadway in downtown Idaho Falls. Photo courtesy of the Oppenheimer Companies.

“You’re creating a place. That’s what this project does, “ Cramer said. “When you can introduce a mix of business that can draw an outside crowd and the captive audience already there, it’s a step forward for downtown getting to its critical mass.”

The Oppenheimers built the 14-story One Capital Center in downtown Boise in 1975 and there hosted the first years of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in an era when widescale downtown demolition was more in order. Then in 1988, they built the 11-story triangular First Interstate Bank (now Wells Fargo Bank) tower.

“We love developing downtowns,” Doug Oppenheimer said. “We try to create projects that act as a catalyst for other projects. We think there is a surplus of opportunity, not a scarcity. Thanks to Steve Carr, we got to know wonderful people in Idaho Falls.”

Smokin Fins will likely be the first The Broadway tenant to open in mid-October, with the first office tenants expected to be in place by the end of the year, Carr said.

“The next step is higher-end downtown residential,” Carr said.