Murphy: New Boise Hawks stadium on the line in GBAD election

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMay 19, 2013 

— No, GBAD is not baseball's latest statistical experiment. It's not the newest acronym in a sport that has given us old-school RBI and ERA along with new-school WAR (wins above replacement) and BABIP (batting average on balls in play).

But GBAD just might be the most important collection of letters for the Boise Hawks this season.

Yes, even more important than W's and L's.

You see, the Hawks' hopes for a new stadium, a multi-use ballpark near 30th and Main streets in Boise, could hinge on the results of Tuesday's GBAD elections.

GBAD - short for Greater Boise Auditorium District - has a five-member board of directors that controls its large (and, importantly, replenishing) bank account.

The auditorium district, created by voters in 1959, gets its money from a 5 percent tax on hotel rooms. GBAD, which operates the Boise Centre, has about $13 million in savings and generates about $2 million more than expenses each year.

The money has been set aside for a new downtown convention center or improvements to the Boise Centre.

But some, including Mayor Dave Bieter and several of the eight candidates running for three spots in Tuesday's election, are open to the idea of using some of the money for the Hawks' long-desired multi-use stadium.

You'll rarely hear it referred to as a baseball stadium by supporters, who are talking up the other benefits, including minor-league soccer, high school and college soccer and baseball, concerts and other community events. But the Hawks would be the primary tenant.

The Hawks, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, have been lobbying, unsuccessfully, for a replacement to 25-year-old Memorial Stadium - a useable but not particularly vibrant ballpark that lacks many of the amenities fans and the Cubs want, and the Hawks say they need.

The Hawks have struck out with every tactic so far.

From subtle ones, such as promising to bring a minor-league soccer team to the new facility, to stronger ones, such as last year's ill-advised (and only thinly veiled) threat that the Cubs would leave and any replacement team would complain about the same issues at Memorial Stadium.

The prospect of a ballpark in Meridian, financed with private money and working with a developer, has gone nowhere. That leaves a new park in Boise with a public-private partnership or renovations to Memorial Stadium as the only real options.

And it's clear which option the Hawks prefer.

The team has - wisely - opted to be a spectator and not participate in the election.

"Our unwritten policy is that we stay out of that stuff," Hawks President Todd Rahr said. "It's a slippery slope if you start supporting one candidate over another. We'll take the cards we're dealt."

That doesn't mean the Hawks won't be watching Tuesday's results. They'll be watching more closely than anyone but the candidates.

GBAD money is the first step in a process to get the stadium the Hawks covet - and the mayor seems increasingly onboard with. Other steps include money from the Hawks' ownership and potentially redevelopment dollars from the Capital City Development Corporation.

Bieter appointed himself to the nine-member CCDC board in March.

No matter who wins Tuesday, the Hawks will have a conversation about the stadium with the GBAD board. But they know certain candidates will be more receptive to the pitch.

"We're going to talk to them about being a partner or a stakeholder in that idea of a new facility," Rahr said. "It's an important day to see if there are people there that would welcome a proposal."

The Hawks don't play their first game until mid-June. But Tuesday, the franchise is hoping for its first win of the season.

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