GBAD election: 8 candidates, many options

Control of the auditorium district's savings and motel taxes are at stake in Tuesday's voting.

sberg@idahostatesman.comMay 19, 2013 

Downtown Boise.

  • WHAT IS GBAD?

    The Greater Boise Auditorium District was authorized by voters in 1959. It was created 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, and has studied possible expansion for many years.

    Who's running against whom?

    Voters will decide three of the district's five board seats in Tuesday's election.

    - Challengers Noah Bard, Steve Berch, John May and Jim Walker are running against incumbents Stephanie Astorquia and Rob Perez for six-year terms in two available seats. The election is at-large and the top two vote-earners win the seats.

    - George Tway and incumbent Peter Oliver are squaring off for a two-year term.

    Who votes?

    You are in the Greater Boise Auditorium District if you live within the following boundaries (roughly): Floating Feather Road and the Foothills to the north; Lake Hazel Road to the south; Eagle Road to the west; and the junction of Warm Springs Avenue and Gowen Road to the east. See a detailed boundary map at www.boiseauditorium.com.

  • WE ASKED THE CANDIDATES: ELVIS OR THE BEATLES?

    Tway: Definitely the Beatles.

    Walker: Beatles

    Astorquia: Elvis was inspiration to the Beatles!

    May: No answer

    Oliver: Beatles

    Bard: Beatles

    Perez: I like them both

    Berch: Beatles, with Elvis a close second.

Will we build that new multisport stadium? A new convention center? Will we expand the existing Boise Centre? Something else? None of the above?

Eight candidates are vying for three available seats on the five-member Greater Boise Auditorium District board.

Rarely has the election for control of this obscure board been so closely watched. But interest in the district and its board is high, and not because it manages the Boise Centre and plans, off and on, for a new convention center.

The election's winners will determine how the district spends the roughly $13 million it has in savings, plus more than $2 million a year in surplus income the district brings in from its regional hotel room tax.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and others are interested in how GBAD and its money might be a linchpin in building a new stadium for minor league baseball and perhaps soccer. The Idaho Shakespeare Festival has asked GBAD for help putting a performing arts center in the old Macy's building Downtown.

The candidates have grouped themselves into a couple camps, sharing campaign mailings and offering voters a choice: incumbents or a new slate of leaders.

Divisions between the candidates center on the two major issues:

1. Whether to expand Boise Centre, the city's convention center, or build a new one.

2. Whether the auditorium district should use its cash and its stream of hotel tax collections to help build a sports and events stadium.

None of the candidates rule out building a stadium. But candidates Jim Walker, George Tway and Steve Berch sound more bullish than others, particularly the race's three incumbents, Stephanie Astorquia, Rob Perez and Peter Oliver.

The question is how much potential a stadium has to drive economic development in Boise and whether a new facility can revitalize attendance at Boise Hawks games.

Both convention center options have drawbacks. A new center, which the board of directors originally planned to build on Downtown Boise's western edge, would cost at least $30 million. The district would have to empty its accounts and borrow $15 million to $20 million against its incoming hotel tax revenues to pay for that option.

On the other hand, an expansion of Boise Centre to add 50,000 square feet of exhibition space would require shutting down that facility for 18 months. Some worry that regular clients would find another venue during the idle period and never come back.

Other, cheaper projects, such as a performing arts center in Downtown Boise, also have generated some buzz going into the election.

The Statesman asked the eight candidates to answer several questions.

GEORGE TWAY, 65

Profession: Owner, Tway Travel agency

Elected/board experience: Board of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: The most interesting is the multipurpose stadium. I would also be open to looking at any other projects that would have a positive economic development impact on the Greater Boise area.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: I think that the best option is to remodel and expand the current convention center. It is centrally located and there are nearby hotels that could be the anchor hotels that conventions and meeting planners require. Building a new center should be considered only if expansion proved to be economically unsound.

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: A new multipurpose sports stadium could be a real asset to the Boise area.

However, I think that the main focus of the district should be adding on to, and improving the present convention center. Certainly the District could participate in the construction of the stadium if the funds were available. That participation is well within the District's charter.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: At present, the center primarily is used as a local meeting site. Once it is expanded, it will be able to attract more and larger conventions that, in turn, will increase hotel bookings in the area. It is also important that the district work closely with other organizations to market Boise to travelers, companies considering relocation and outside meetings and conventions.

JIM WALKER, 43

Profession: Firefighter

Elected/board experience: Secretary-treasurer of Boise Firefighters Local No. 149

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: The multipurpose sports arena is the most intriguing project. The venue could be used to host minor league baseball, soccer, concerts and community events that Boise is losing out on today. The district can't build this project by itself, but there is certainly a role for GBAD. I also believe GBAD could have a role in growing the arts with partnerships in performing arts spaces.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: Building a new center is out of the question because there are no available parcels with adjacent convention-quality hotels. The district wants a 50,000-square-foot exhibition hall. But if we build it, will conventions come? We have lost direct flights and hotel rooms in the downtown corridor - critical factors in attracting the larger events. The district should delay expansion until air service returns and a hotel partner can be identified.

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: As stated before, I believe there is a ton of potential in this project. GBAD cannot build the stadium but could be a partner in the maintenance and operations of the facility. It really is going to take a willingness to work with the stakeholders and clearly define everyone's role in the project.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: Plain and simple, the district needs to build things. In 54 years the district has only invested in one project - The Boise Centre. GBAD has broad authority in the types of projects they can build and it should not be solely focused on exhibition space. I intend to guide the district to build new infrastructure that will put heads in hotel beds.

STEPHANIE ASTORQUIA, 45

Profession: CPA

Elected/board experience: Appointed to GBAD board in 2007, elected in 2009

Q: In January, the auditorium district Board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: With the addition of Peter Oliver and Rob Perez and my experience, the board is more qualified to consider re-investment in exhibit space and investment in other facilities within the district's purview, such as auditoriums and sports arenas. To identify and evaluate projects, we initiated collaboration with other agencies, including city of Boise and Capital City Development Corporation. Rob Perez and I lead this effort.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: Due to the board's financial stewardship, the district has resources and now more qualified leadership to fully consider additional convention space. Industry experts have consistently concluded there is demand for additional convention space and our community will benefit from it. While each alternative has risks, count on me to ensure each alternative is carefully filtered to ensure it is fiscally responsible and meets public sentiment.

Q: What should be the District's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: The district may invest in sports arenas. However, in addition to contributing to our economic well being, for any development I will:

1. Ensure fiscally responsible investment. Risk of repayment as well as operating risks must be mitigated. Taxpayers on the hook for additional construction costs or operating deficiencies must be eliminated.

2. Create public forums to gauge public opinion. Public sentiment for fiscally vetted projects must be considered.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the District's revenue stream?

A: Conventions are demand generators for hotel stays. Each year, events at Boise Centre generate $48.5 million in economic impact and more than 600 jobs from $29.4 million in direct spending by 143,000 attendees. Our unique Idaho experience, coupled with convention-specific hotels and a successful convention facility, is key to attracting conventions. Count on me to fully evaluate and recommend public-private partnerships to optimize your investment and return.

JOHN MAY, 52

Profession: Owner, operator Owyhee Plaza Hotel

Elected/board experience: Two terms, Idaho Travel Council. Two terms, Capital City Development Corporation.

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: What projects are most interesting to me may not have any bearing on the feasibility and appropriateness of the district participating in those projects. So without being privy to all of the details, I would say that the multipurpose stadium idea is the most interesting, but just as long as it does not come at the expense of the current convention center today or into the future.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: I would love to see a brand new convention center with increased meeting, meal and exhibition space. Now, the reality today is that without a substantial partner or two, that is probably not going to happen. I believe expanding the existing one is the next best option. Coordinating that expansion with the least amount of disruption to the current business is key!

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: If it was determined that it is appropriate for the District to participate in a stadium project and there is support for that by the community, then I would see participation limited to one-time investment dollars. An ongoing commitment to fund operations of a stadium could hinder the district's ability to fund future convention center operations.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: We need to make sure we are comfortable on what we charge customers and how that relates to our competition. A more aggressive and combined marketing effort needs to be undertaken between the district's sales team and the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Outside convention business needs to be a priority as that business is key to our economic success.

PETER OLIVER, 46

Profession: Commercial real estate broker

Elected/board experience: GBAD board, St. Luke's Children's Hospital Advisory Board

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: I am interested in exploring all projects that are within the purview of the district. Any projects that are explored must follow three basic litmus tests: 1. We can afford to build them. 2. We can afford to sustain them. 3. They yield the greatest return on investment to the community.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: One potential project for consideration is expansion of the convention center. This can either come through construction of a new facility or expansion of the current facility. However, it must be carefully evaluated against the answer to the first question.

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: Again, a new multipurpose stadium could be a project of consideration. However, it must be evaluated against the answer to the first question. In addition, as with any projects under consideration, projects should be undertaken in conjunction with our partners.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: Increasing hotel bookings is one measurement metric in evaluating potential projects. The more hotel bookings there are the larger the economic impact for our hotel constituents and ultimately the district.

NOAH BARD, 36

Profession: Manager for Production Services International

Elected/board experience: None

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: Because of my experience working with convention centers across the United States, I know Boise needs more convention space. I am most interested in getting additional convention space for local and national clients. This could mean expansion of convention center space or possibly other multiuse facilities if they serve this purpose.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: Building a new one is the only option. There are too many clients who would be hurt by expanding the existing convention center while the construction was being done, since there is such a lack of space in Boise.

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: It depends on the plans for the stadium. If a stadium plan could be developed that was for multi-use and multiple sports, the district could be a valuable partner in this process. If it's a closed-focus stadium, the resources would be better spent elsewhere.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: GBAD needs to encourage a larger convention hotel to be built in Boise. This will not only allow regional and national conventions to have their guests at one place, but maintain their national hotel contracts in Boise. A national hotel chain can also sell Boise as a great place to have a convention.

ROB PEREZ, 56

Profession: Bank president

Elected/board experience: Numerous board affiliations

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: Any project that achieves the following:

1. Is consistent with the District's legal mandate.

2. Maximizes economic impact to the greater Boise community (jobs).

3. Engages the community in a discussion of options/considerations.

4. Can be purchased or financed without jeopardizing the district's financial well-being.

5. Can be effectively managed by the district or agents of the district to ensure operational quality and financial solvency.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: Building a new center at a new site will be the most costly option and carries the greatest financial risk. While I am not ruling out a new center as an option, I think expansion of the existing center deserves thorough investigation, particularly if we are to maximize the district's overall investment, its new project potential, and economic growth (jobs).

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: It should be considered along with other potential projects and be evaluated in a relative manner using the five criteria I have specified above.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: 1. Continue to operate a world-class convention center. Today we have a 4.9 service quality rating with 5 being best.

2. Make sound investment decisions that result in economic growth and therefore greater room demand.

3. Work with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau and in-house marketing staff to maximize convention bookings.

STEVE BERCH, 60

Profession: Strategic planning, business development, marketing

Elected/board experience: Neighborhood and homeowners' association

Q: In January, the auditorium district board voted to consider projects other than a new convention center. Which projects are most interesting to you?

A: Multiuse sports facilities, auditoriums for the arts and other performance events, other facilities that will help grow Boise's reputation as a destination location for conventions and regional events. I will work collaboratively with key stakeholders and local business leaders to solicit and develop new project ideas.

Q: What should the district do about the convention center? Expand the existing one? Build a new one?

A: I would first consider ways to expand the existing facility at its current location. If possible, the district might then consider selling the land it owns to help fund the expansion and/or other projects. A final analysis of both options should be completed and a decision made within the next six months, or sooner.

Q: What should be the district's role in building a new sports stadium in Boise?

A: The District's role with a multiuse stadium should be as an investor. Before that happens, the board would need to know:

1. Functional and multiuse requirements for the facility.

2. The total cost, revenue, extended economic impact, and risk associated with the project.

3. Potential public and private stakeholders with whom to partner.

4. Respective costs, roles and responsibilities of all parties.

Q: What should the district do to increase hotel bookings in and around Boise, thereby increasing the district's revenue stream?

A: The District should:

1. Expand convention facilities to attract larger indoor events.

2. Invest in new facilities that will accommodate new indoor/outdoor events.

3. Invest in additional marketing of its facilities in collaboration with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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