Many politicians and business people in the Treasure Valley believe Boise Mayor David Bieter is attempting to gain control of the Greater Boise Auditorium District in order to help steer its resources toward building a new baseball stadium.
"I think he wants his legacy as a baseball stadium," said Judy Peavey-Derr, one of two members of the auditorium district's board of directors who isn't up for re-election on May 21.
That's not necessarily right, according to the candidates and Bieter.
The mayor makes no secret of his desire for a new stadium for the Boise Hawks, a single-A team affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. But "from where we sit now," a stadium shouldn't come at the expense of an expansion of Boise Centre or another convention venue, Bieter said.
Because of its capacity to bring visitors and their money to the city, he said, expanded convention space should be the auditorium district's priority. If there's money left over from the more than $15 million in various district accounts, he would support using it to cover part of a stadium's cost.
"My legacy is my daughter," Bieter said. "The rest is 'What's the best thing we can do for the city in the time I'm here?' That could be 10 things. It could be three. Or maybe it's not possible to do them. I don't have a going-home project or a legacy project.
"I'd like to say I'm the puppet master, but I think that's kind of laughable really, in the end, and that's why I don't treat this that seriously. I don't know where (the accusations are) coming from and I don't really care."
The auditorium district, authorized by voters in 1959, was meant to be a tool to boost the Boise economy. The district gets its money from a 5 percent tax on hotel rooms inside its boundaries, which surround Boise. It operates Boise Centre, a convention venue that opened in 1990.
Control of the district is at stake in the May 21 election. Eight candidates, including incumbents Rob Perez, Stephanie Astorquia and Peter Oliver, are vying for three available seats on the five-member board.
Bieter recruited Jim Walker, a Boise Fire Department veteran who described the mayor as "a close personal friend," to run for one of the open seats. Bieter said he does not anticipate endorsing anyone else.
"He's been a mentor to me in the political area," Walker said.
Walker said the idea of building a stadium to revitalize the area west of Downtown interests him. He also said he favors using district money to help the Idaho Shakespeare Festival open a performing arts center in the old Macy's building Downtown.
Steve Berch, who ran as a Democrat in the past two state legislative elections, said he discussed his candidacy with Bieter after he decided to run. He said they talked about a new baseball stadium as one of several options for the district to pursue.
"He didn't say, 'Will you do this or that?'" Berch said. "But he said people have been talking about a theater, a ball field or things like that. Expanding the convention center or going up, or going out. The conversation I had with him was more him sharing his awareness with me of the different ranges of possibilities, but he didn't advocate any particular one of them or press me for any type of advocacy for any one of them. So it was more of an education session, an information-sharing session."
John May, who Bieter appointed to a second term on the city's urban renewal district, and George Tway also discussed their candidacies with Bieter. Both said the district shouldn't use its resources on a stadium.
Hawks officials blame the deterioration of Memorial Stadium, their home field at the Expo Idaho complex in Garden City, for lackluster attendance at home games.
Bieter's office and the team have paid for studies on the feasibility of building a stadium in Boise. One potential site is near 30th and Main streets, an area the city and its urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corporation, are trying to revive. Last month, Bieter appointed himself to the last open spot on CCDC's nine-member board of commissioners, on which City Council members David Eberle and Lauren McLean already serve.
Money is the stadium's major obstacle. Construction alone would cost about $20 million, Hawks general manager Todd Rahr said. That doesn't take into account the cost of the land.
CCDC can tap property taxes for projects in urban renewal districts. The auditorium district controls a tempting pot of money, and state law authorizes sports arenas in its list of appropriate facilities for auditorium districts to build or operate.
"I think (Bieter) has figured out he's got to create some financing opportunities, and as he looked at our statute, it mentions sports facilities in there, and he thought, 'Well, if I can certainly dominate the makeup of the board in any way, maybe I can divert those funds,' " Peavey-Derr said.
If the auditorium district ends up putting its money or stream of hotel taxes behind a stadium project, Bieter said, it can't be alone. Other sources, such as private donations, the sale of naming rights and contributions from the Hawks organization, would be necessary.
Rahr said involvement of the city, as well as other governments and private organizations would be necessary to build a new sports complex. He said the Hawks favor a 4,000- to 5,000-seat multi-use venue that can be used for other sports, as well as concerts, car shows, festivals and other events.
Some of Bieter's critics believe his involvement in the auditorium district election is part of a broader, coordinated push to seize more power in Boise and promote the stadium. They point to his self-appointment to the CCDC and his endorsement of John Carver, who ran to unseat Ada County Highway District Commissioner Rebecca Arnold in November.
Bieter and Arnold have tangled publicly in recent months. Arnold criticized Bieter for taking a pay raise last year; in February, a Bieter aide circulated a flier criticizing the highway district.
Bieter wants the auditorium district, highway district and urban renewal agency to better communicate and coordinate their efforts. But is he orchestrating a plot to increase his influence over the boards that shape Boise's future?
"I don't see it that way," Bieter said. "These are all players in some important projects that have been, and that are, on the drawing board for our city, and whoever might fill these slots, we're going to be involved in those issues and those discussions."
Sven Berg: 377-6275