A tributary of the Boise River, Indian Creek lay buried beneath concrete in Caldwell since the early 1950s. That is until 2009, when a revitalization project to restore Indian Creek exposed the waterway to daylight again and introduced suspended bridges, walkways and picnic areas to its banks.
As the free-flowing stream and six acres of green space came alive, so did the once stagnant City of Caldwell. With the addition of Indian Creek Plaza in 2018, a $7.3 million economic development project in the downtown retail district, the lost treasure of Indian Creek was found.
Seattle-based design firm GGLO intended to create a vibrant, livable space for families and the community in downtown Caldwell. Financed by the city and urban renewal funds, the result is a 57,000-square-foot public plaza with a performance stage, ice skating ribbon and rink, gas-powered fire pits and interactive water features, including fountains and a splash pad.
Based on a downtown plaza model that helped revitalize Rapid City, South Dakota, Caldwell city leaders first designated a site for the future Indian Creek Plaza at the corner of Kimball Avenue and Arthur Street in 2014. The rest is history in the making.
Treasure Valley Treasure
Mayor Garrett Nancolas is fond of calling Caldwell the Treasure of the Valley.
“The plaza is the centerpiece of the downtown Caldwell revitalization project and a destination point for the region,” Nancolas said when Indian Creek Plaza officially opened in July 2018.
Together, the plaza and park were projected to generate $2.7 million in revenue for Caldwell and attract 330,000 visitors in the first year alone. Owned by the City of Caldwell and managed by Destination Caldwell, the plaza hosted 315 events and activities in 2019, everything from concerts, farmers markets, holiday celebrations, fitness classes, outdoor games and brew fests.
The Winter Wonderland Festival illuminates the plaza with a million holiday lights that sparkle off the creek. The ice ribbon and skating rink alone attracted 35,000 visitors last year. And event organizers continue to expand the annual Indian Creek Festival, a fall tradition made official in 2003 when a public sculpture was dedicated at the first pedestrian bridge.
Keri Smith-Sigman, Caldwell native and CEO of Destination Caldwell, says the plaza’s design and atmosphere draw on the area’s agricultural history, with elements linking the Sunnyslope Wine Trail and farm-to-fork food tradition. Destination Caldwell is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reclaiming and rebranding Caldwell as Idaho’s premier gathering place.
And reclaim it has. The downtown square has added dozens of new businesses since the plaza opened, including restaurants, boutiques, a coffee shop, bookstore, donut shop and art studio. Two blocks east, a new 11-screen movie theater opened in 2018. Two blocks west, the new Treasure Valley Community College satellite center welcomed students in 2010.
Once considered a ghost town, Caldwell is experiencing a cultural renaissance.
Mollie Carroll, an organizer for the Boise Baby Boomers Meetup group, invited her winter walking group to Caldwell in early March. After coffee and conversation at Flying M Coffee Shop, they enjoyed a pleasant walk along the full length of the greenbelt. Next was a movie at the Luxe Reel Theatre, followed by dinner at Amano, a downtown restaurant known for its handcrafted Mexican cuisine.
The outing included a few surprises for Carroll, including the discovery of a peaceful meditation garden at the west end of the greenbelt.
“Downtown Caldwell has been renovated so beautifully, and I wanted to check out some of the entertainment offered there,” she said. “It’s a great destination for fun activities without the big crowds often found in Boise.”
Attractive Business Incentives
Much of the flourishing economic development has to do with the creek and park redesign, according to the Urban Land Institute. New grade and flow adjustments to the waterway, part of the Indian Creek daylighting effort, convinced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2009 to downgrade the flood risk in downtown Caldwell. This led to reduced insurance premiums and enhanced property values for businesses in the city’s core.
In addition, a city-funded incentive package was introduced in 2008 for new downtown development, explained Dean Gunderson in his article “Daylighting Caldwell: Urban renewal transforms an asphalt floodway.” This included a 60% cost-share for downtown streetscape improvements, a new transportation grant, downtown Wi-Fi system, police bike patrol rotation and a potential reduction in permitting costs for green buildings certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
In 2016 the Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency adopted a facade improvement program that matched 35% of the cost of renovation, improving the appearance of buildings surrounding the plaza. In some cases, that meant restoring brick and sandstone buildings from the early 1900s to reveal their historic charm, even as the plaza itself was being constructed.
While Caldwell has become the Treasure Valley’s newest destination spot, the impact of Indian Creek Plaza and restoration of the city’s signature stream is not limited to attracting visitor traffic from neighboring communities. By investing in itself, Caldwell has become a treasure for its own residents and future generations.
The main goal was always to bring Caldwell residents back to a downtown they could be proud of, according to Smith-Sigman.
“Instead of shopping, dining and playing in other communities, we want people to have the opportunity to stay in their hometown.”
So as Caldwell celebrates its homecoming, its downtown revitalization continues. If recruitment efforts are successful, a boutique hotel, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, specialty shops, a full-service bike shop, business innovation center and upper-story residential and office space may soon add to the city’s appeal.
Downtown Caldwell is open for business.
Note: Destination Caldwell has created a webpage on temporary business closures, food pickup/delivery options and online shopping due to COVID-19. Visit: https://www.destinationcaldwell.com/buy-local-caldwell
“Daylighting Caldwell: Urban renewal transforms an asphalt floodway” by Dean Gunderson, appears in “River by Design: Essays on the Boise River, 1915-2015,” published by Boise State University as part of the Investigate Boise Community Research Series.
My Two Cents
The Idaho Business Review asked a few of the state’s most prominent business leaders this question: “What downtown amenities have you seen outside Idaho that you would love to have here?”
“I love the street dances that most small Southern towns have. Hay bales in front of the stores to sit on, streets blocked off with a band, all ages hanging out, tons of food and shopping. It’s a very heartland ‘Hope Floats’ kind of feeling. I miss those a ton!”
— Jessi Roberts, founder of Cheekys
“Aside from the obvious like streetcars and riverwalks, I’d like to see more monuments and historical interest markers. These points of interest can be used as a way to educate visitors and the public, and I think we are missing a chance to celebrate many of the things that make our cities great. These types of spots in a downtown are also gathering places that draw people in, and they give a place more meaning.”
— Nathan W. Murray, economic development director at City of Twin Falls
“I love Boise downtown! The updated plazas at City Hall and The Grove really invite Boiseans and visitors to gather and enjoy the urban space. Our public artwork campaign has clearly been a success between the new exterior murals, sculptures and even the vibrant paintings on the traffic signal boxes. These come together to give a real sense of place to our downtown core and encourage activity day and night.
In larger cities that perhaps don’t enjoy our climate and seasons, I do love skybridges between high-rise buildings. Minneapolis and Dallas come to mind immediately with their intertwining networks of connections between skyscrapers giving a great sense of urbanity and energy. I would love to see Boise downtown grow to the point where we could incorporate skybridges into our downtown urban fabric.”
— Penny Dennis, business development and preconstruction manager at Layton Construction
“I’ve always thought a small business food court market would be an awesome addition to our downtown area. These kinds of year-round markets similar to Reading Terminal Market end up being fantastic cultural hubs and promote tourism. Special asterisk…all the shop stalls and vendors need to be local businesses. No Pizza Huts.”
— Nick Crabbs, co-chair at Boise Startup Week and partner at Vynyl