Our view: Boise needs a hub, but it also needs a vision

Statesman staffJune 8, 2013 

The fact that Valley Regional Transit is in need of a multimodal transit center should not get lost amid the unfortunate flap over whether a proposed location at 8th and Jefferson in Downtown Boise would be a magnet for panhandlers and homeless people.

So let's get rid of the sideshow. The issue is not whether we need a transit center, because it's clear that we do. The question is where to build it; 8th and Jefferson is not the right location.

Maybe this is something Mayor Dave Bieter will address when he gives his State of the City address at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Boise Centre. The address offers him an opportunity to talk about the need and his vision. Tommy Ahlquist, a developer for the 8th and Main tower project, is talking to the City Club at 11:45 a.m. June 17. That, too, could shed more light on this long-standing issue.

Perhaps like you, we tire of hearing about things that could go wrong when different layers of society mesh in public places. Let us not forget that Bieter himself - who has poured considerable and laudable attention to the transit center way beyond just a bus barn - recommended Boise police might be anchored at the facility to quell any safety concerns.

But let us get back to the business at hand. The transit authority has been trying for six years to locate a $12 million hub for buses, car- and bike-sharing businesses, van pools, taxis and airport shuttles. These facilities exist throughout the West, with most located in or on the edge of downtown areas. Boise needs this facility and in the rarified air of financing, the money to build it is available - $9.5 million from a federal earmark and $2.4 million pledged by Boise's urban renewal agency. Private interests see potential for retail, office and residential space related to the quarter-block tract.

We like the idea of enhancing the transit hub and developing something that, at maturity, could be greater than the sum of its parts, but we believe the obstacles to the site now being studied are too formidable.

The owner of the property is the state Department of Lands, which manages 2.4 million acres scattered around Idaho. It already has denied the transit authority's request, though the hub's proponents are lobbying to reverse that decision.

Furthermore, we feel Boise shouldn't be building and developing sites that people are just going to tolerate. At 8th and Jefferson, it's debatable if a transit center would even be tolerable. There's enough chaos in that area during the three or four months of a legislative session.

When we think about the $12 million pot of money available to build a functioning transit hub and the $13 million available to the Greater Boise Auditorium District, we wonder if the right conversations and relationships are underway to seek synergies for long-term visions for the city. Yes, we understand that the missions of Valley Regional Transit and GBAD are quite different, and we are not advocating a transit-hub-multi-use-sports facility-convention center. But before $25 million burns a hole in our pockets, we think it is fair to ask if these upcoming components are parts of something bigger.

It is wonderful to see the cranes that symbolize growth and economic viability. Exciting projects are connecting the dots of Boise's future. But what should the other dots be? And when connected, what picture of Boise will we see in 2025?

We have been impressed with the work of the Gardner Co, which is developing the tower at 8th and Main. Ahlquist, chief operating officer, is interested in the transit project and he has managed excellent work in the West and in the Treasure Valley.

Yes, we need collaboration. But we also need leadership, and that should come from Bieter.

"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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