Gardner Co.: Downtown Boise's big builder, buyer

The 8th and Main owner has Idaho's tallest building and is close to acquiring the second tallest, U.S. Bank Plaza zkyle@idahostatesman.comJuly 2, 2013 

Chief Operating Officer Tommy Ahlquist joked Tuesday that the Gardner Co. just wants to end the debate over who owns the state's tallest building.

In all seriousness, though, Ahlquist said that enthusiasm for Boise, not a crazed desire to buy up all the tall structures in Idaho, is what's behind the developer's bid to buy the 8th and Main building's 267-foot neighbor to the southeast.

"This is evidence of how bullish we are on the Treasure Valley and Boise," Ahlquist said.

Last month, Gardner agreed to terms with Unico Properties of Seattle to buy U.S. Bank Plaza, Ahlquist said. Gardner declined to name the purchase price. The Ada County Assessor valued the property at $25.1 million this year.

Ahlquist said Gardner is hoping to close the deal in about two months.

If it goes through, the deal will launch Gardner into the conversation about who Boise's leading Downtown developer is, said Bill Clark, owner of Clark Development.

His company's Downtown projects include The Jefferson and the Veltex Building.

Clark said Gardner's main competition for that title might be Oppenheimer Development Corp., which built the Wells Fargo Center, One Capital Center and the Simplot Co.'s headquarters.

"Obviously, (Gardner) is becoming even more of a major player," he said.

A potential concern for Gardner is whether owning two huge office buildings next to each other will create a "musical chairs" scenario with tenants, Clark said.

One such example is law firm Holland and Hart's coming move from U.S. Bank Plaza to the top three floors of 8th and Main.

Peter Oliver suggested a positive side to the movement of tenants from one building to another. Having the same company own both buildings gives tenants more options and flexibility in finding office space in the Downtown core, said Oliver, co-founder of commercial real estate firm Thornton Oliver Keller.

Oliver looks at the Gardner-Unico transaction as a good development for Boise. Oliver said Ahlquist, an ER physician who lives in Meridian, and Gardner have demonstrated they want to be part of Boise, not try to remake it in their own image.

"They've been very active and you could use the word 'aggressive,' but their projects are quality-driven. They're trying to raise the bar," Oliver said. "But the other thing is, unlike other folks that have come into the market, they've come in and they've tried to work with the community and contribute to the community, versus coming in with an attitude of, you know, 'We're coming to Boise. We're going to show you boys how to do it right.' "

Before the deal for U.S. Bank Plaza becomes final, both sides have some due diligence to take care of, Ahlquist said.

"There's a lot of work that's going on trying to just evaluate the current state of the building and the value of the asset," he said.

They will examine electrical and mechanical systems. They'll also research contracts with tenants and service providers such as maintenance companies and janitors, Ahlquist said.

At this point, Ahlquist said, the Gardner Co. has no plans to change the mix of tenants in the U.S. Bank building. He said the stability of those tenants is part of what makes it an attractive acquisition.

"We're very invested in Downtown with our new building and, looking for a future investment in Downtown, we just think it's a good addition to our current portfolio," he said. "We'll have a significant chunk of the Downtown, so it'll be important to really participate and make this the greatest place it can be for companies and people to be."

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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