Our View, Greater Boise Auditorium District: Stalling in gridlock

May 15, 2013 

  • Tuesday elections

    We are offering opinions on some of the issues to be decided. Today we focus on the Greater Boise Auditorium District elections where six candidates are vying for two six-year-terms, and two candidates are running for one two-year term.

Boise-area voters have an uncanny ability to discern complex election issues. This is a good thing because there are profound choices and nuances aplenty in the May 21 elections for the Greater Boise Auditorium District. We are not opposed to GBAD continuing to expand to become a more attractive venue, nor are we wary of this board developing new attractions for sports or performing arts. What worries us is that a mixed board will be unable to do either.

GBAD is bigger than Boise but not inclusive of all of Ada County (call 208-287-6860 to see if you are in it). It is governed by an elected five-member board of directors responsible for the operations of the Boise Centre, which hosts conventions, meetings, conferences and social events. Roughly $2.6 million is netted annually from a 5 percent "bed tax" at hotels in the district and from the use of Boise Centre. GBAD enjoys a debt-free status and assets including a $13 million nest egg and land (Parcel B) between 11th and 13th streets, and Front and Myrtle streets.

The present board is working on a plan to expand and attract more conventions, which could increase the $45 million economic impact for the area. But some candidates are interested in creating new attractions that both locals and visitors can enjoy, such as sports or performing arts venues.

Candidates Steve Berch, Jim Walker (both running for six-year terms) and George Tway (seeking a two-year term) have the same campaign manager and are endorsed by GBAD board chairman and Idaho House member Hy Kloc, who was endorsed by Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who endorses a new baseball stadium. Berch-Walker-Tway were the only candidates among the eight to advocate for a multiuse sports facility (not to the exclusion of convention enhancements) during a candidate forum May 9. They did not spell out baseball specifically, but emphasized "multiuse." They claim they are not a "slate," but they espouse a common anti-incumbent message.

Stephanie Astorquia, Rob Perez (running for six-year terms) and Peter Oliver (running for a two-year term) are incumbents, though Perez and Oliver are relatively new appointees (one year ago and four months ago, respectively). These three share a campaign flier and none advocated specifically for a multiuse sports facility at the candidate forum. They see their strength and their future as operating, and perhaps expanding, the district's convention business. Expansion plans could include a 50,000-square-foot exhibition area that consultants recommend.

The remaining two candidates, John May and Noah Bard, both have industry experience. May's is in the hotel business and serving in community development capacities. His parents have both served on the GBAD board - May's late father, Larry, and his mother, Gail, who left the board in January. Oliver was appointed to the seat Gail May left at midterm.

May wants to stay in the convention business. His red yard signs have sprouted all over the city and that could be an indication of grass-roots support. Bard was ill the day of the forum, but he, too, defines himself as an experienced convention professional and facilitator. He works for PSI, which provides audio-visual services.

At times, the GBAD board has navigated internal discord. Berch, a business consultant who has two failed attempts running for the Idaho Legislature, is critical of the dysfunction. Walker, captain in the Boise Fire Department, has a hard time believing a "bigger box" center will create "allure." Tway, who has expertise in the travel industry believes "we need different perspectives."

Incumbent Oliver, Tway's opponent, is credited by GBAD staff and board veterans as a stabilizing force. Fellow incumbents Astorquia, a CPA, has worked to invest GBAD's assets. Both she and Perez, a banker, have deep financial experience. All three want to find the best path to expansion.

"I'm not opposed to trying to do things outside the convention center, but one thing I've learned in banking is you stick to your knitting. And what we do well is we run a convention center," said Perez.

Nobody likes to portray this election as an "either-or" vote, a choice between going with a sports/performing arts facility versus expansion. But a mixed board of sports venue proponents and convention expansion supporters could face protracted gridlock and a shortage of funds to do both.

For this reason we hope the votes being cast now and on Tuesday will be decisive. We would prefer this board move forward with a clear agenda and not a muddled one. Whatever that agenda is - continuing with convention business enhancements or a vote of confidence to consider things like a multiuse sports facility - the people in the Greater Boise Auditorium District will have spoken and progress can rule.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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