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Mayor highlights Meridian’s successes, future plans

MERIDIAN, ID Mayor Robert Simison delivered his 2023 State of the City Address today at the Galaxy Event Center. At the event, hosted by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce and Presenting Sponsor, The Village at Meridian and CenterCal Properties, Simison addressed recent successes in investing in public safety personnel and infrastructure. He also emphasized the importance of partnerships with agencies and community stakeholders in meeting the service expectations of the community through responsible growth strategies.

Addressing the concern of mobility among Meridian residents, Simison highlighted several road improvement projects that are nearing completion. These include the expansion of the final leg of Chinden Boulevard between Locust Grove and Meridian Road and the repaving of Eagle Road, which now features a new third lane southbound from River Valley to Interstate 84. Additionally, the Linder Road overpass project is set to complete its design phase this fall, with funding for right-of-way acquisition to be included in the Ada County Highway District’s (ACHD) budget for the following year.

Simison also expressed the need for the evolution of operations on Eagle Road to meet community standards, with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) expected to provide speed reduction recommendations in the near future. 

“I’m concerned that people will continue to try and travel at unreasonable speeds on the freshly paved road this summer due to a posted speed limit that isn’t achievable during many times of the day,” he added.

Expanding on the city’s development plans, Simison shared the expansion plans of both Idaho State University and Saint Alphonsus Health System. Saint Alphonsus Hospital intends to establish a new outpatient center in northwest Meridian through the acquisition of land near Chinden and Highway 16. Meanwhile, Idaho State University plans to expand its Meridian health care campus, with the initial property development funded by $5.3 million in state appropriations. 

“We need to lay out a clear [land use] framework for a medical corridor in this area,” Simison said. Further stating that these efforts will benefit “those who need care, are focused on finding the next medical breakthroughs, and for the necessary education opportunities for our future  providers.”  

Simison touched upon various aspects of the economy and the city’s responsible growth achievements over the past three years. Meridian has become a top employment center, with over 8,500 jobs created since 2020 and average wages increasing by more than fifteen percent. The mayor acknowledged the city’s efforts to update impact fees to accurately account for the cost of development, ensuring that growth pays for growth. He also highlighted the implementation of three new urban renewal areas and the identification of priority growth areas and infill projects as effective strategies for directing and encouraging growth, reflecting sound policy and fiscal responsibility.

During his address, the mayor outlined the needs he recommends including in the upcoming city budget. He emphasized purposeful requests that align with public service expectations and the forward-facing departments as the city continues to grow. The budget includes resources for support departments such as information technology, human resources, and finance. It also proposes funding for pathway connectivity and streetlight expansion, aiming to enhance the community’s aesthetic appeal, improve mobility connections, and increase safety.

Mayor highlights Meridian’s successes, future plans

MERIDIAN, ID Mayor Robert Simison delivered his 2023 State of the City Address today at the Galaxy Event Center. At the event, hosted by the Meridian Chamber of Commerce and Presenting Sponsor, The Village at Meridian and CenterCal Properties,  Simison addressed recent successes in investing in public safety personnel and infrastructure. He also emphasized the importance of partnerships with agencies and community stakeholders in meeting the service expectations of the community through responsible growth strategies.

Addressing the concern of mobility among Meridian residents, Simison highlighted several road improvement projects that are nearing completion. These include the expansion of the final leg of Chinden Boulevard between Locust Grove and Meridian Road and the repaving of Eagle Road, which now features a new third lane southbound from River Valley to Interstate 84. Additionally, the Linder Road overpass project is set to complete its design phase this fall, with funding for right-of-way acquisition to be included in the Ada County Highway District’s (ACHD) budget for the following year.

Simison also expressed the need for the evolution of operations on Eagle Road to meet community standards, with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) expected to provide speed reduction recommendations in the near future. 

“I’m concerned that people will continue to try and travel at unreasonable speeds on the freshly paved road this summer due to a posted speed limit that isn’t achievable during many times of the day.” 

Expanding on the city’s development plans, Simison shared the expansion plans of both Idaho State University and Saint Alphonsus Health System. Saint Alphonsus Hospital intends to establish a new outpatient center in northwest Meridian through the acquisition of land near Chinden and Highway 16. Meanwhile, Idaho State University plans to expand its Meridian health care campus, with the initial property development funded by $5.3 million in state appropriations. 

“We need to lay out a clear [land use] framework for a medical corridor in this area,” Simison said. Further stating that these efforts will benefit “those who need care, are focused on finding the next medical breakthroughs, and for the necessary education opportunities for our future  providers.”  

Simison touched upon various aspects of the economy and the city’s responsible growth achievements over the past three years. Meridian has become a top employment center, with over 8,500 jobs created since 2020 and average wages increasing by more than fifteen percent. The mayor acknowledged the city’s efforts to update impact fees to accurately account for the cost of development, ensuring that growth pays for growth. He also highlighted the implementation of three new urban renewal areas and the identification of priority growth areas and infill projects as effective strategies for directing and encouraging growth, reflecting sound policy and fiscal responsibility.

During his address, the mayor outlined the needs he recommends including in the upcoming city budget. He emphasized purposeful requests that align with public service expectations and the forward-facing departments as the city continues to grow. The budget includes resources for support departments such as information technology, human resources, and finance. It also proposes funding for pathway connectivity and streetlight expansion, aiming to enhance the community’s aesthetic appeal, improve mobility connections, and increase safety.

Meridian approves state’s second Opportunity Zone project

The Meridian City Council and the Meridian Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency, have agreed to accept a proposal for downtown Meridian that would result in the state’s second Opportunity Zone project, in response to a request for proposal (RFP) the city issued earlier this year.

The first, in Twin Falls, was announced in August.

Opportunity Zones, a community development program established by Congress in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, are intended to encourage long-term investment in low-income urban and rural communities through tax breaks.

photo of bill truax
Bill Truax

“The short story is that without the Opportunity Zone, we would not have entered an application under this RFP,” said Bill Truax, president of the Boise-based Galena Opportunity Fund, the only Opportunity Zone fund based in Idaho, which is also funding the Twin Falls project.

Background

This summer, Meridian asked developers to submit proposals for a new community center, park and parking garage on a city-owned site downtown. Meridian offered $4 million to pay for development and construction on the parcel, bordered by 2nd, 3rd and Idaho streets and Broadway Avenue.

Galena, the only developer to submit a proposal, proposed tearing down the current community center building and Centennial Park and rebuilding them as part of a combined community center and potential charter school for $13 million. The charter school portion of the project is a concept only and may change, said Tom Sheldon, an architect with GGLO Design of Seattle, which is working on the project with Galena.

New urban renewal district

The project would be funded by Meridian. Of the total cost, $4 million would come from the city directly, with the rest through creating an urban renewal district. The developers would fund the project up front and be reimbursed by urban renewal funds over time.

Galena said it needed the urban renewal district to fund the project, and the city agreed that without the urban renewal district, the community center will not be built. The proposed district would encompass six acres of land adjacent to the community center where Galena plans to build the Meridian Station project, which would include apartments, office and retail space.

Urban renewal districts make money through tax increment financing or revenue allocation. The district doesn’t raise taxes, but the tax yield on any growth in the defined district would go to the urban renewal agency to pay for projects developed in that area. Critics say that means other citizens and businesses have to pick up the slack to provide services such as police and fire protection for the district.

Aaron Elton, chief financial officer of the Galena Opportunity Fund, told the council he expects Meridian Station to generate $18 to $19 million in tax-increment revenue if the new district is created, part of which would go to pay back the costs of the community center.

But what about the old urban renewal district?

Galena’s community center project and Meridian Station project already fall within the existing downtown urban renewal district, set to expire in December 2026. Galena argues that the district expires too soon for it to accumulate enough tax-financing to support the community center.

To create a new district for the Galena parcels, the city would need to de-annex, or remove, the parcels from the current downtown urban renewal district. Next, it would need to vote to create a new, separate urban renewal district, which would require a study to demonstrate that the area is eligible to be an urban renewal district, as well as multiple rounds of public involvement ahead of any final vote.

Meridian did not commit to creating an urban renewal district ahead of that process and added a condition that Galena would have to pay the costs associated with de-annexation and creation of the new urban renewal district. Galena also has to give Meridian enough time for this process, the city added.

The Twin Falls Opportunity Zone project Galena is financing also leverages an urban renewal district.

Idaho Business Review reporter Sharon Fisher contributed to this report. 

Two vying for Meridian mayoral seat

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Ten Mile Crossing is just one of several major projects under development in Meridian. File photo.

Two contenders have stepped up hoping to take over the Meridian mayoral seat Tammy de Weerd will vacate after this term.

De Weerd took the opportunity of her 16th State of the City address on Feb. 6 to announce that she wouldn’t be running for re-election in November.

photo of robert simison
Robert Simison

The following day, Robert Simison, who has served as de Weerd’s chief of staff for the last 11 years, announced his candidacy, receiving endorsements from de Weerd, along with former City Council Members Charlie Rountree, Brad Hoaglun, David Zaremba and the late Keith Bird, who had passed away just a few days before.

The other candidate is Anne Little Roberts, who serves on the Meridian City Council and, with her husband, operates two businesses, one that aerates golf courses in the Pacific Northwest and an Amazon business that sells ink and toner. In addition, she served as the president of the Meridian Chamber of Commerce from 2011 until 2017.

The winner of the mayoral election would take over leadership of one of the fastest growing areas in the nation’s fastest growing state.

Each candidate brings a unique perspective on economic growth and expansion in Idaho’s second biggest city.

Simison emphasized two angles: First, what the city can do for businesses that want to move to Meridian or expand, such as processing their applications efficiently. “Time is money,” he said. “When they decide to move forward, we need to ensure they don’t have unnecessary delays in permits and processes.”

The other is how to make Meridian a business-friendly community by improving the transportation infrastructure and partnering with the state on incentives for businesses that want to grow in the community, Simison said.

photo of anne little roberts
Anne Little Roberts

Roberts praised downtown Meridian businesses for forming their own association, which makes it easier for the Chamber of Commerce to work with them as a group, she said.

“The biggest thing, coming from a Chamber background, is to help make sure businesses are informed and communicating with each other,” Roberts said.

She also wants to continue the city’s economic development activities, such as Ten Mile Crossing and other developments around the Ten Mile interchange.

One outstanding issue is that Roberts was fired from her position at the Chamber for what she said was no reason.

“Nobody had an answer other than the gentleman who terminated me,” she said. “Hopefully within the next few months it will be resolved.”

There is a court date set for June, but Roberts said she hopes it doesn’t get that far.

photo of tammy de weerd
Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd at her State of the City address. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

In her State of the City speech, de Weerd indicated that she felt she was leaving Meridian in a good position. The city added 2,203 jobs in 2018, for an overall increase of 34 percent over five years. In comparison, the state’s job growth was just under 16 percent, while the nation’s was 9 percent.

De Weerd also mentioned several major Meridian developments that occurred under her watch, including the sale of the former Farmstead property for development into a business and entertainment complex, and launch of Idaho’s first medical school, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Still to come is the development of Meridian’s Opportunity Zone, which encompasses part of Old Town Meridian. “Our Opportunity Zone is ready for investment, and we are ready to talk about it!” she said.

Meridian is currently upgrading its comprehensive plan, thanks to input from 4,500 people, de Weerd said. The primary areas of concern center on the impact of growth on transportation and schools, two areas that the city doesn’t control, she said.

In addition, the city currently has 50 public works projects underway, including expansion of the city’s sewer and water facilities, amounting to a total of $70 million. Meridian is also working on adding new parks and open space, as well as public art.

“Citizen feedback indicates a desire for less density and to preserve farmland and open space,” de Weerd said. “Our community survey results in 2017 showed 50 percent of respondents willing to support a levy for open space without even knowing a plan.”

Pizza giant Marco’s slowly inches into Idaho

Marco’s Pizza has nearly 900 locations, but so far only one in Idaho in Meridian. Photo courtesy of Marco’s Pizza.

Toledo, Ohio-based Marco’s Pizza took its first bite in Idaho in January with a shop in northwest Meridian at Ten Mile and McMillan roads.

Now, the seventh largest U.S. pizza chain is looking for franchisees to add five more Marco’s in the Treasure Valley, said Keith Sizemore, Marco’s vice president of new territory development.

Marco’s was the largest U.S. pizza chain without a Boise metro presence until this year.

The expansion into Idaho is part of Marco’s blitz into the western states, where the brand is still not widely known.

Marco’s has only 55 of its 890 stores in the western states of Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and Idaho, with none so far in Oregon and Washington.

Sizemore said Marco’s aims to have 200 to 250 stores in the West by 2020, nearly doubling the national count to 1,500 stores. But strategic planning for Idaho has not gone beyond the five in the Treasure Valley for now.

“We have not nailed down a trade area (in Idaho) where we want to be in yet,” Sizemore said. “It depends on the interest of franchisees (elsewhere in Idaho).”

Nation’s Restaurant News ranks Marco’s Pizza as the seventh largest U.S. pizza chain in terms of sales and the third fastest growing in terms of sales and number of stores.

Marco’s Pizza was founded in 1978 by Italian immigrant Pat Giammarco. Sizemore said the chain insists on using fresh, never frozen cheese with sauce and dough made in-store.

The chain stuck mostly to the Rust Belt until about 2006. The first western Marco’s opened in 2004, but the chain didn’t look much to the West until the first Arizona store opened in 2008, Sizemore said.

“It depends on where master franchisees were,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot in the West.”

A group of doctors from several states, with operating partner Craig Hixson, has the Meridian franchise, but Sizemore said that group has not indicated an interest to operate additional Marco’s.

Largest pizza chains by sales

  1. Domino’s, $5.9 billion
  2. Pizza Hut, $5.5 billion
  3. Little Caesars, $3.7 billion
  4. Papa John’s, $3.0 billion
  5. Chuck E. Cheese’s, $838.3 million
  6. Papa Murphy’s, $832.5 million
  7. Marco’s, $561.3 million

Source: Nation’s Restaurant News

Planning departments change national retail branding

photo of downtown sandpoint
Downtown Sandpoint buildings retain their pedestrian-friendly character by fronting onto the sidewalk. File photo.

If you’re heading for the McDonald’s in Hailey, don’t try looking for tall golden arches. They don’t exist.

Similarly, the Albertsons grocery store on State Highway 75 doesn’t look like a typical Albertsons. Instead, it’s a plain beige-sided storefront, with a flat Albertsons logo on it.

A number of Idaho cities, particularly resort communities like Hailey, have the clout to ask national retailers with recognized branding to design their buildings to fit in better with the community.

“We require design review on all commercial buildings with standards that talk about scale and compatibility,” said Lisa Horowitz, community development director for Hailey.

For example, because the city doesn’t allow tall, free-standing signs, the McDonald’s, built in the late 1990s, has a monument sign on the ground with golden arches on it.

“I think they know when they go in certain environments they have to change their design,” she said, noting that it resembles the McDonald’s in Aspen, Colorado.

Albertsons, built in the early 2000s, was limited by a regulation that a single tenant can’t be larger than 36,000 square feet, Horowitz said.

“I think it’s the smallest Albertsons in all of Idaho,” she said. “They have embraced the design standards we have here.”

The city is now working with Marriott on its new Fairfield Marriott.

“It has unusual building colors and design,” as well as a different look to its porte-cochere, where cars drive up to the lobby, she said.

Some areas don’t have restrictions specific to chains but have general restrictions in zoning code. For example, because Sandpoint wanted to maintain the traditional development pattern of downtown commercial areas, the city requires buildings built to the street, with parking to the side and back, said Aaron Qualls, director of planning and economic development.

“For some national retailers, their contemporary design pattern is to set the building far back from the street,” with parking between the street and the building, he said. “It’s built more for cars than for people.”

Other design restrictions include some sort of delineation of floors “so you don’t get blank, huge, monotonous walls,” a certain amount of window coverage on the ground floor, and some breakup of the façade for buildings over 50 feet, Qualls said.

Driggs and Victor have similar restrictions, said Doug Self, community development director for Driggs.

“Contemporary interpretations of Driggs’ agricultural ranching history and rural-mountain surroundings are required,” notes its code about chain stores. “Designs that detract from Driggs’ sense of place and uniqueness are not permitted,” such as large blank walls, chain store designs seen in other communities, suburban strip malls and highly reflective glass, the code continued.

National chains locating in Driggs have had to add “base” and “top” elements to the façade, remove floor-to-ceiling storefront windows, incorporate materials such as stone and timber, break up large blank walls, and add canopies over sidewalks and walkways, Self said. In addition, like Sandpoint, Driggs doesn’t allow parking between the street and the building.

In an era where brick-and-mortar stores have declined, Driggs’ approach has been successful, Self said. Since 2006, national chains located there include Family Dollar, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Kings, he said.

“Driggs prides itself on its unique retail and restaurant businesses, and attractive, pedestrian-oriented shopping areas, where sales have increased every year since the recession, despite the internet takeover of retail in general,” he said.

photo of troy behunin
Troy Behunin

In response, some cities that aren’t resort communities are pushing back as well. In 2008, Kuna pressured Walgreens to come up with a more attractive design.

“They proposed a vanilla box with almost nothing special to it,” said Troy Behunin, senior planner. “At the Design Review meeting, the committee asked why the Eagle store was given a lot more aesthetic considerations. The committee had the courage to require them to step up their game and follow the Kuna architectural guidelines. Walgreens responded with what you see in place today (with a different color and exterior rock added for texture and contrast). It was a good compromise.”

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Caleb Hood

Similarly, in Meridian, neighboring residents are negotiating with a proposed Costco to make it look nicer, said Caleb Hood, planning division manager.

“When Costco originally came in and requested annexation, they had a prototypical building proposed,” he said. “The Council wasn’t overly enamored with the design, and neither were the neighbors. It had a warehouse feel.”

While the council approved the project, it told Costco it needed to work to blend the building in more with the community, and that work is underway, he said. Typically, such negotiations are done during design review.

“We try, as staff, to head that off before it gets to the hearing,” said Hood. “It’s not too often that the council says, ‘We don’t like that design, try again,’ because we were able to work with applicants and get a design that works,” he said.

photo of kk lipsey
KK Lipsey

“Not every community has a design review, but those that do are more likely to have a keen interest in how buildings will look in their community,” said KK Lipsey, business development director for CSHQA.

Some cities, such as Eagle and Idaho Falls, said they don’t do much to regulate national branding.

“The city of Idaho Falls does not currently regulate colors and so on that a business might use to brand them,” said Kerry Beutler, assistant planning director. “The city does have sign regulations related to height and size, but not for content and color.”

photo of robin collins
Robin Collins

Robin Collins, Eagle economic development director, said the city never asks a business to change anything that has to do with content in their signs or brands.

“Eagle might, on rare occasions, ask that an aesthetic architectural element be added to the signage to make it more compatible with the architectural design of the building, or to soften a color ever so slightly so as to not be so bright,” she said.

Meridian and Lime agree to remove dockless scooters until March

Lime scooters lasted just six days in Meridian before the city asked for their removal. Photo courtesy of Stephen Hunt, Valley Regional Transit.

The city of Meridian has asked dockless bike/scooter companies Lime and Bird to delay the launch of electric scooters until mid-March.

The dockless Lime scooters lasted just six days in Meridian before the national provider withdrew the full complement of 200 scooters at the city’s request.

Lime introduced the scooters on Meridian streets Sept. 27, and as of the Oct. 2 Meridian City Council meeting, had removed them all, citing “missteps” in deploying the scooters.

The council asked Lime to pause the program and remove the scooters because several conditions of the memorandum of understanding between Lime and the city were not followed, Meridian City Attorney Bill Nary said.

“It’s just a pause,” Nary said of the city’s relationship with Lime. “There were violations of the conditions that arose quite quickly.”

City officials since then met with Lime to iron out matters and ultimately decided to keep dockless scooters off Meridian streets and sidewalks until mid-March.

Lime was required to do a public outreach program to educate customers on how to use and park the vehicles, find parking locations that met city conditions and speak with private property owners to arrange additional parking areas.

“They didn’t do any of this,” Nary said.

Lime did not respond to a request for comment from the IBR.

The Ada County Highway District impounded 13 scooters that were obstructing sidewalks, ACHD spokeswoman Natalie Shaver said.

ACHD does not have a policy regarding dockless bikes or scooters. In many other cities, dockless bikes are pretty much parked anywhere, especially on sidewalks.

“As of right now, we treat them the same way we treat any obstructions,” Shaver said. “If they are on a sidewalk blocking access, that is when we will impound them.”

Cities in Ada County, such as Meridian and Boise, do not control the street or sidewalks, which fall under the purview of ACHD. Meridian does have an agreement with ACHD for some control of sidewalks in the downtown core between Fairview and Franklin and Meridian and Third. Boise has a similar downtown sidewalk arrangement.

The Meridian agreement with Lime allows riders to park the scooters only on city property, parks, downtown sidewalks and, per agreements with owners, on private property such as The Village at Meridian or other shopping centers, Nary said.

Meanwhile, the city of Boise is actively meeting with Lime and Bird, another dockless scooter company that serves 52 cities and 20 states. Both could have the maximum 250 scooters allowed by Boise on the streets in a couple weeks, said Craig Croner, the city’s administrative services manager.

“The large part of the conversation with both vendors is public outreach,” Croner said. “They will work with our community education team. Lime and Bird are pretty good at getting the word out. We are prescribing areas where we don’t want devices.”

The city and vendors are discussing installing geo-fences – electric “fences” for the scooters – that will not let users leave scooters in designated areas, such as narrow sidewalks or certain areas of the Boise State University campus, Croner said.

“We don’t want them parked on the Greenbelt,” he said. “We are still working on where we would like them to be. We’re still working on data sharing.”

Lime is based in San Mateo, California, and Bird in Santa Monica, California.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. Oct. 9 with Meridian’s decision to wait until mid-March to allow dockless bikes or scooters.

Lime deposits Idaho’s first electric scooters in Meridian

The first Lime scooters appeared in Meridian on Sept. 27. Photo courtesy of Stephen Hunt.

National dockless bicycling sharing and scooter company Lime unloaded its first shipment of 200 bright green electric scooters Sept. 27 in Meridian.

The city of Meridian and Lime signed a memo of understanding Sept. 25 allowing Lime to deploy and maintain a minimum of 200 bicycles, which by definition includes standard pedal bicycles, electric assist bicycles and electric scooters.

Lime has more than 35,000 dockless bikes in at least 87 cities and a number of university campuses in at least 26 states, including Portland, Seattle, Reno and Salt Lake City. The Reno City Council renewed its contract with Lime on Sept. 24, while neighboring Sparks the same day canceled its contract with Lime, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. The city of Lynn near Boston also ended the dockless bike share program Sept. 25.

The scooters cost $1 to check out and 15 cents per minute to ride. A smartphone is required to check out a Lime vehicle.

Lime has a discounted program for people who qualify for state or federal low-income programs — 50 cents to check out a vehicle and 7 cents per mile. A smartphone is not required.

Meridian is the first Idaho city with Lime bikes, but Lime has applied for permits to operate in Boise.

The Boise City Council put the brakes on dockless bikes on Aug. 21 with stringent requirements allowing a dockless bicycle operator to have no more than 250 vehicles, with no more than 750 vehicles allowed by all operators. Boise imposed a $5,000 business license for each dockless bike operator plus a $100 fee and $20 security deposit for each bike or scooter an operator wants to bring to Boise.

That would add up to $17,000 to unload 100 bikes in Boise.

“Our intention is to be in Boise. We’re ready to go,” said Gabriel Scheer, Lime’s strategic development director. “(Boise) put in restrictions that make it hard for us to make money. We are willing to give it a try.”

Meanwhile in Meridian, the memorandum of understanding requires Lime to maintain general liability insurance for injury and death, both in the amounts of at least $1 million.

The city stresses that this is not a city program, and all concerns about Lime need to be addressed to Lime, city spokeswoman Kaycee Emery said.

Dockless bikes, as the name implies, have no docking stations, such as is the case with the Boise GreenBike bike sharing program. Dockless bikes can be left anywhere, which has resulted in bikes being deposited in all sorts of locations in cities across the country.

Meridian requires bikes and scooters to be parked on city property, defined as city public parks, city-operated public pathways and certain portions of downtown sidewalks.

Lime so far only has scooters available in Meridian with no indication if bicycles will arrive.

“We are trying to figure that out,” Scheer said about bicycles. “If we do bicycles, they will be electric. It’s a learning curve for everybody. What does the market need?”

Lime was established in January 2017, with the first bikes launched at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in May 2017.

Big office buildings headed to Chinden and Highway 16

Central Valley Plaza, starting with a 90,000-square-foot medical office building, will be built at Chinden and Highway 16. Image courtesy of Ball Ventures Ahlquist and Brighton Corp.

Downtown-worthy office buildings are on the way for the northwest corner of Meridian, where open landscape still dominates.

Local developers Tommy Ahlquist and David Turnbull see the eventual extension of Highway 16 south to Interstate 84 and the relentless Meridian westward residential crawl as the best ingredients to build Central Valley Plaza at the corner of Chinden Boulevard and Highway 16.

They announced the 71-acre, $100-million-plus Central Valley Plaza project Sept. 25 with intentions to start construction of a three-story, 90,000-square-foot medical office building anchored by HCAHealthcare in spring.

With inquiries already strong for retail and office space, Ahlquist believes the 1-acre retail pad and five-story, 120,000-square-foot second office building could start pretty close to the same time as the medical office building.

“A lot of CEOs live down there,” said Ahlquist, CEO of the newly established Meridian-based Ball Ventures Ahlquist (BVA) office development firm. “Why not have offices down there? There are people who don’t want to drive (to Boise) anymore.”

Ahlquist repeated the “don’t want to drive” line two more times during an interview with the Idaho Business Review.

He expects the medical office building to be complete in spring 2020.

HCAHealthcare sparked Central Valley Plaza

HCA was the driver to get Central Valley Plaza in motion. Turnbull, CEO of Brighton Corp., a Boise housing and commercial developer, has owned the Central Valley Plaza acreage since 2006. Ahlquist has had long relations with HCA executives, who some months back mentioned an interest to operate a third health care facility in Idaho. HCA already operates West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell and Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Central Valley Plaza will have a mix of medical, office, retail and residential. Image courtesy of Ball Ventures Ahlquist and Brighton Corp.

BVA and Brighton teamed up to bring HCA to Central Valley Plaza. BVA and Brighton have been partners for two years on the Ten Crossing and Ten Mile Creek office commercial and residential development and will now partner on other Brighton developments at Century Farm, Barber Station and Paramount Square.

“David is one of the pillars of the community,” Ahlquist said of Turnbull. “A lot of his values and visions align with ours. Cortney (Liddiard, CEO Ball Ventures) gets along with David, too.

BVA was established in June on the heels of Ahlquist’s failed bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in May. Ahlquist left his post as chief operating officer at Gardner Company to enter into a partnership with Idaho Falls-based developer Ball Ventures.

Ball Ventures and Gardner were already partners in the downtown Boise mixed-use Pioneer Crossing with the new Hilton Garden Inn, Panera Bread, Boise Chamber of Commerce, a garage and future home of First Interstate Bank. Ball Ventures owned 80 percent of Pioneer Crossing, and BVA recently bought out Gardner at Pioneer Crossing and Ten Mile Crossing, Ahlquist said.

More buildings coming to Ten Mile Crossing

Brighton Corp. will move into the third office building under construction at Ten Mile Crossing. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Ten Mile Crossing has AmeriBen and Paylocity in the first two completed office buildings with Brighton planning to move into the third office building now under construction. BVA has its office in the Paylocity building.

Ten Mile Crossing should see 2019 construction starts on its fourth and fifth office buildings, both five stories and 120,000 square feet. One will be an AmeriBen expansion and the other a free-standing structure, Ahlquist said.

Several smaller office buildings will be announced in coming weeks, he added.

Turnbull was not available for interview but said in a press release: “Our goal at Brighton has always been to create the finest quality real estate projects in the Treasure Valley. Central Valley Plaza will bring much-needed services to north Meridian, and we are thrilled to partner with BVA on this site and our properties throughout the valley.”

A five-story, 120,000-square-foot expansion will be built on the pad next to AmeriBen. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Central Valley Plaza will also include the fourth Veranda senior housing facility, but construction is not expected to start until 2020. BVA and Brighton co-own the Veranda brand with assisted living, memory care and independent living with Veranda Paramount open in Meridian, Veranda Barber Station in southeast Boise under construction, and Veranda Century Farm in Meridian starting construction soon.

Central Valley Plaza will also have a row of flex office space with luxury office and roll-up garage doors in the back.

Ahlquist expects to build out the development in four years.

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.

Idaho Central Credit Union acquires 50-acre Meridian Elks Rehab property

photo of farmstead
The 50-acre parcel currently occupied by the Farmstead corn maze has been acquired by Idaho Central Credit Union. File photo.

Idaho Central Credit Union has acquired more than 50 acres of prime development land in Meridian for a regional mortgage and call center. The acquisition could presage a new burst of development in the area.

The parcel is located along Highway 84 and Eagle Road in Meridian, where the Farmstead corn maze is now. It is 51.59 acres, zoned agricultural, and assessed at $87,300, according to Ada County Assessor’s Office public records, and is listed as belonging to the Idaho Elks Rehab Hospital Inc.

According to title records, ICCU acquired the property on July 12 for an undisclosed price. But its value as commercial real estate would be likely to be significantly more than its $87,300 assessed agricultural value.

ICCU has no timeframe for construction on the property, said Laura Smith, director of public relations. It’s not planning to move its headquarters from Chubbuck, where the credit union is now adding a data center that will hold more than 380 desks. ICCU is Idaho’s largest credit union, reporting assets of $3.9 billion.

photo of laura smith
Laura Smith

“When we build there, it will be a regional mortgage center and regional call center,” Smith said.

But 50 acres is a lot of space for a call center, leaving open the possibility that the rest of the property could be developed. In comparison with other recent freeway-hugging developments in Meridian, the Village is 100 acres and growing, Roaring Springs is 36 acres, and Ten Mile Crossing is 75 acres.

Smith said there were no plans for the remainder of the property.

“We had heard that ICCU had it under contract, but that it was not completed,” said Hillary Lowe, owner and operator of The Farmstead Corn Maze & Pumpkin Festival, along with her husband, Jim. The Lowes rent the property annually for their event, which is scheduled to run from September 21 to November 3 this year. Even if the property is sold, they will still operate the corn maze this year, she said. ICCU is a sponsor of the Farmstead event.

The parcel has been for sale for as long as the Lowes have rented the property, sincer 1997, and has had potential sales five or six times before, Lowe said. “They thought they were going to make soccer fields out of it at one point, so we moved our location to another spot,” she said. “Then they decided not to, and we were able to move back there.”

Elks Rehab referred calls to its attorney, John Burke, who was out of the country.

Meridian shops for ideas for its old city hall building

Meridian looks to redevelop its old city hall. Photo courtesy of city of Meridian.

Meridian is finally getting around to figuring out what to do with its old city hall, 10 years after moving into its new one.

The city and Meridian Development Corp. jointly put out a request for proposal May 3 for developer ideas for the roughly 10,000-square-foot structure on about 1 acre at 33 E. Idaho Ave. Proposals are due July 25 but none have been submitted so far, said Cameron Arial, Meridian’s community development director.

About 16 people showed up to the city’s June 18 pre-submission meeting and four potential applicants have called Arial, he said.

The building is now occupied by New Ventures Lab, a new business incubator. The city offices moved out when the current city hall opened in 2008.

“It could be a renovation, but I think we’re looking for more of an iconic redevelopment,” Arial said.

The Old Town zoning district has a 75-foot building height maximum but Arial believes taller buildings would be welcomed.

“The RFP would reward a more iconic signature piece,” he said. “The City Council and Meridian Development Corp. would be flexible with proposals.”