Downtown Meridian to get four-story apartments

Downtown Meridian could get two four-story apartment buildings with retail on ground level across from City Hall. Image courtesy of city of Meridian.

A man who is already a fixture in downtown Meridian won approval Aug. 28 from the Meridian City Council to fill most of the block across from City Hall with 103 apartments and 15,700 square feet of office/retail in two four-story structures.

The 120,987-square- foot project would be the largest private downtown project yet built in Idaho’s second largest city.

Developer Josh Evarts and city leaders believe the project will be a catalyst for more downtown development in a city where developers have waited for someone to go first with a downtown project.

Evarts hopes to start construction in May and have people move into his apartments in November 2020.

The project is on the block bounded by Main Street, Meridian Road, Idaho Avenue and Broadway. Evarts already owns the 1902 Heritage Building at Main and Idaho as well as the 703 Main building at Main and Broadway, former home of the Treasure Valley Children’s Theatre. He is also in a development agreement with the city to acquire the building next door a 713 Main, where the library’s unBound is located. He owns the 1905 Meridian Bank Building, too, which he now calls The Vault.

Josh Evarts

Evarts previously received approval for his proposal Aug. 21 from the Board of Commissioners of the Meridian Development Corp., the city’s redevelopment agency, which owns the city’s old city hall. The city hall was the leaping-off point for Evarts’ proposal. The First Interstate Bank building at Broadway and Meridian would remain.

“This is the first-ever project like this for downtown Meridian,” said Evarts, managing member of Novembrewhisky Properties. “I want to make sure what we’re doing is 100 percent in line with what the city wants.”

Evarts had planned to build a pair of four-story, mixed-use buildings at 703 and 713 Main, but he intends to fold those prior redevelopment ideas into this new one to build one larger structure that wraps around the corner of Main and Broadway.

He expects to have 55 one-bedroom units and 48 two-bedroom units with monthly rents from $990 to $1,160.

The city of Meridian asked for requests for proposals to redevelop the old city hall. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Evarts is partnering with Eagle-based Pacific Companies, which has developed some 200 projects across the western states. Evarts will take charge of commercial leasing and recruiting and Pacific is the project developer.

The city and Meridian Development Corp. on May 3 issued a joint request for proposals to redevelop the old city hall building on Idaho Avenue, which the city vacated in 2008. New Ventures Lab now occupies the building.

The next step is for Evarts to reach agreement with MDC to build the project and the city to transfer ownership of the old city hall building.

Two proposals considered

Josh Evarts’ proposal would redevelop the old Meridian City Hall (left) and 703 Main Street (far rear). Photo by Teya Vitu.

Two proposals submitted by the July 25 deadline reached beyond the 1-acre boundaries of the 10,000-square-foot former city hall building. A steering committee appointed by City Council and MDC commissioners recommended the Novembrewhisky proposal.

MDC approved the Novembrewhisky proposal at the Aug. 21 joint meeting with the City Council but some council members also wanted a presentation of the second proposal from a team headed by Eugene- and Boise-based deChase Miksis.

This led to a second special meeting Aug. 28 to hear the deChase Miksis proposal. Because the Novembrewhisky proposal was the only one under official consideration, all the council could do was approve Evarts’ approval or scrap the RFP process and start all over, City Attorney William Mary said.

The council voted 4-1-1 with Councilmember Ty Palmer opposed and Councilmember Joe Borton abstaining.

Council members stressed that they liked the deChase Miksis proposal but it required establishing a new urban renewal district to build a parking garage that could delay construction as long as a year. deChase Miksis also wanted $15 million in city assistance for its $40 million project.

Evarts asked for no city assistance for his $20 million project and he believes he can start construction as soon as May.

“In this instance, downtown needs some action to happen quickly,” MDC Commissioner Nathan Mueller said. “The city needs speed of development.”

Josh Evarts’ redevelopment proposal also includes 713 Main, which houses the library’s unBound. Photo by Teya Vitu.

City Councilmember Treg Bernt led the council discussion.

“There are so many things that can come from this RFP,” Bernt said. “This project will be the catalyst for future projects. I believe there are developers waiting on the sidelines. They have been waiting for years for something to happen.”

The City Council and MDC Commission invited deChase Miksis to bring other downtown proposals.

“We have at least two other properties,” Mueller said. “It is possible for this downtown to have two projects, not just one.”

“We are excited to have continuing conversations,” Mayor Tammy De Weerd concurred. “There is a lot of opportunities. This is the beginning of a conversation.”

“We look forward to the future opportunities,” deChase Miksis partner Dean Papé said.

Mixed-use project proposed for downtown Meridian

A four-story mixed-use buildings could replace these former bank buildings in downtown Meridian. Photo by Teya Vitu.
A four-story mixed-use buildings could replace these former bank buildings in downtown Meridian. Photo by Teya Vitu.

A developer who is familiar in downtown Meridian submitted the only proposal to redevelop a pair of former downtown bank buildings now occupied by the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater and the unBound Technology Library.

Josh Evarts, who already owns two historic downtown Meridian buildings, proposes building a pair of four-story mixed-use structures on the neighboring properties of the former Farmers & Merchants Bank and Wells Fargo Bank buildings on Main Street. They are located across the street from Meridian City Hall.

Josh Evarts
Josh Evarts

These buildings are now owned by the Meridian Development Corp., the city’s redevelopment agency, which jointly put both properties up for requests for proposals for development, purchase and/or lease with a Sept. 30 deadline for proposals.

The MDC Board of Commissioners was scheduled to meet Oct. 12 to discuss authorizing administrator Ashley Squyres to enter into negotiations with Evarts, managing member of Novembrewhisky Properties. The board will also consider a short-term extension of the children’s theater lease, which expired Sept. 30.

“It’s exactly the type of project we envision for our downtown master plan,” Squyres said. “This is the first large, private project that is likely to come to fruition since the inception of the (redevelopment) district (in 2001).”

Evarts is fluent in the language of Meridian’s downtown master plan. He sits on the Meridian Historic Preservation Commission and owns the 1902 Heritage Building and the 1905 Meridian Bank Building that he now calls The Vault. Both are on Idaho Avenue.

Evarts intends to build a pair of four-story buildings with commercial space on street level, offices on the second floor and residential on the top two floors. This is the standard definition of urban mixed-use development, a concept new to downtown Meridian.

“I don’t know if it will fly,” Evarts said. “My wife and I are going to live in one of the units. I think somebody has to take a risk. A little bit of this is us being trailblazers. Somebody has to do something different and interesting to inspire others.”

Josh Evarts proposes two four-story buildings with retail, office and residential for downtown Meridian. Image courtesy of Josh Evarts.
Josh Evarts proposes two four-story buildings with retail, office and residential for downtown Meridian. Image courtesy of Josh Evarts.

The first building on the children’s theater property is proposed at 3,800 square feet of retail, 4,000 square feet of office and a pair of two-story, 1,800- to 2,000-square-foot residential lofts, one of which Evarts and his wife, Lori, will occupy.

For the second building, Evarts is planning 4,000 square feet of retail, 4,000 square feet of office and four residential units of about 900 square feet each.

“It will be something that will force everybody to raise their game,” Evarts said. “I’m not a developer. I’m an IT guy. I build software.”

As such, he is taking a novel approach with dealing with the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater and unBound.

Evarts hopes to hold off working on the children’s theater building until a new location is found for the group. He said he has been working with Autumn Kersey, the theater’s founder and executive director, to write grants and find available properties in downtown Meridian.

He believes a suitable location could be found within 90 days.

“I’m not going to be the guy who displaces the children’s theater in downtown Meridian,” Evarts said. “She has a property she’s going after. If a building owner has a space with 2,000 square feet, I’d love to see a developer step up and say: ‘I’d love to be an interim solution. I think it can happen.”

Kersey opened the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater in October 2013, but she is “working aggressively to secure a permanent location in downtown Meridian.”

The Treasure Valley Children's Theater has occupied the former Farmers & Merchants Bank building since July 2013. Photo by Teya Vitu.
The Treasure Valley Children’s Theater has occupied the former Farmers & Merchants Bank building since July 2013. Photo by Teya Vitu.

“Treasure Valley Children’s Theater has always known that our residency at 703 N. Main Street would be temporary,” Kersey said in an e-mail. “We outgrew the space a couple of years ago… Josh Evarts’ proposal to develop the hard corner of Broadway and Main is exactly the type of project that downtown Meridian needs. I am grateful for his partnership in identifying the best course of action to move his project forward with as little disruption to our operations as possible.”

Evarts plans to demolish and redevelop the children’s theater property first. He does not anticipate redeveloping the unBound building for another 2½ years.

The unBound techology library opened in the former Wells Fargo building in October 2015. Photo by Teya Vitu.
The unBound techology library opened in the former Wells Fargo building in October 2015. Photo by Teya Vitu.

unBound is the Meridian Library District’s technology library that opened in October 2015 with four 3D printers, a sound studio, design studio and print center. unBound is the district’s solution to consolidate its technology at a separate location because the library branches did not have sufficient space to permanently display the technology, Library Director Gretchen Caserotti said.

“We knew going into it that (the 713 N. Main Street property) had an uncertain future,” Caserotti said. “We have such a good relationship with Josh. We appreciate that he keeps us in the loop.”

Caserotti’s focus now is in the Nov. 8 bond election for $12 million to build two more branch libraries. After that, she will think about unBound’s future.

“We have built a lot of relationships downtown,” she said. “We feel successful in the proof of concept of what a modern library can do to expose the community to emerging technologies.”


Signs now proclaim Meridian Historic Downtown

The branding campaign for downtown Meridian has brought this signs to the tulip-adorned medians on Main Street. Photo courtesy of Mark Carnopis
The branding campaign for downtown Meridian has brought this sign to the tulip-adorned medians on Main Street. Photo courtesy of Mark Carnopis.

Signs boasting Meridian Historic Downtown were installed April 7 in the flowered medians on Main Street, a first step to proclaiming downtown Meridian’s emergence as a destination touting its history.

The four, double-sided signs with images of historic buildings were unveiled in an April 11 ceremony. The vertical signs are on two posts modeled after historic light posts.

The signs are on either side of Idaho Avenue with images designed by Boise’s Rizen Creative of downtown’s Heritage Building, the Zamzow feed manufacturing mill and Old Elite Cleaner Building.

Ashley Squyres
Ashley Squyres

“This is the first step in a branding campaign,” said Ashley Squyres, administrator of the Meridian Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency, which funded the $20,000 project. “We are going to work hard to prepare a narrative that serves as a tool of all aspects of communication about downtown. We all need to tell the same story as to what we want downtown to be.”

The branding campaign gives a jump-start to MDC’s Destination Downtown, the 2010 vision and master plan for downtown Meridian development. Along with these signs, Squyres said the first two tangible results for the future downtown were the city’s commitment to build a new city hall downtown in 2008, and a decision by Valley Regional Transit and the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho to build a joint headquarters downtown in 2011.

Right now in the works are two “lighter, quicker, cheaper” projects with the same set of property owners on Idaho Avenue. The urban renewal agency is offering façade improvement grants to several property owners to do similar project to the recently restored brick and window façade of the 1908 Elite Cleaners Building.

On the same block of Idaho Avenue, Meridian Development Corp., the city of Meridian and the Meridian Downtown Business Association are collaborating on a public space initiative to narrow the street by installing “parklets” or tiny parks that would be temporary for now. This would put benches and seating platforms on the street surface next to the curb with flower pots serving as protective barriers.

The city and MDC are each putting $15,000 into this project, which goes out to bid in May with construction set for summer.

“We’ll leave it up for a year or two and see the feedback and then determine how to make this permanent,” Squyres said.