Alex Vega speaks with infectious excitement as he weaves through the labyrinth-like A-1 Heating warehouse at the end of Front Street. He shouts over the sounds of saws, drills and fans, giving a tour of his dream: a gallery here, an office and conference room there and, most of all, a mammoth, open workspace that goes on and on.
This dilapidated concrete-block building, rimmed in chain link and covered in peeling paint, is an eyesore.
Thats about to change.
Were so close. I cant wait, Vega says. Once we get all this work done, were going to blast this town with ridiculous amounts of art.
Vega took control of the building at 1214 W. Front St. last month and is turning it into the Boise Creative Center. He plans to open on First Thursday, Sept. 5, with the sixth annual Second Chance Recycled Art Show, a benefit for Supportive Housing and Innovative Partnerships.
The Boise Creative Center will replace Vega and his wife Jamies garage as their primary art studio. They will work on large-scale paintings, Vegas commercial sign projects and public art commissions. He also plans to offer overflow space for lease to other artists and artisans who need a place to work and who share his vision.
Furniture maker John Hall already signed on. Hes been helping Vega clean, paint and repair the place for a month.
We want people who are inspired and who want to contribute to the community, Hall says.
One factor that drew Vega to the site was the annual Treefort Music Fest, which takes place in the vacant lot behind the center.
We like that this is an area where creative things happen, he says.
Once he gets moved in, Vega will cover the buildings exterior with murals that reflect the Boise Foothills and the city.
And hes not the only business in the neighborhood planning on that.
The Boise Creative Center is one of three new businesses that will brighten up arguably one of the ugliest stretches in Boise.
Half a block away, renovation will start this week on the Woodland Empire Ale Craft, a brewery and pub that will open in November at 1114 W. Front St. Woodland Empire owners are partnering with illustration artist Beau Van Greener to create large exterior murals that they hope will become part of the fabric of the neighborhood, says brewmaster Rob Landerman.
On the corner of the same block, youll find beer lovers partying at Pre Funk, a beer bar and growler-filling station that opened earlier this month at 1100 W. Front St.
This spark of creative business growth is happening in a pocket of grass-roots micro-redevelopment that seems driven more by serendipity than design. All of the business owners signed their lease agreements, independently, within weeks of one another, without knowing who would be their neighbors.
It sometimes happens like that, says John Brunelle, director of Boises Capital City Development Corporation.
I think its a harbinger of good things when you see artists and other creative businesses just moving into an area, Brunelle says. We werent asked to participate, and I think its great that its happening on its own. That shows that the core of Downtown is strong and things are happening in the overflow.
Brunelle points to other bright spots where arts-based businesses and other creative ventures combine to transform and energize neighborhoods. The Green Chutes Artists Co-op and Salt Tears Coffeehouse and Noshery at the Collister Shopping Center in Northwest Boise, and the Revolution Center and Crooked Fence Brewing Co. Barrelhouse in Garden City are two examples.
Vega is an artist with a finance degree. He saw the A-1 building as a smart opportunity, despite the buildings condition. It was filled with trash from squatters and in general disrepair from five years of vacancy.
After a month of sweat equity cleaning, shoring up the interior structure and making it safe its still mostly a big open space with lots of potential, Vega says.
We have a big catwalk (porch) out there for displays, he says. I might be out there some days painting. I have a place I can work and where I can meet with clients. And we have control over the reader boards. That will be fun; we have lots of things to say.
So far hes received great support from City of Boise Planning and Zoning and White-Leasure Development Co., which manages the building.
The long-term goal for the property is that someone will buy it, raze the structure and build a shiny new building, says Jeff Huber, White-Leasures vice president.
In the meantime, this puts the building in a positive holding pattern, Huber says. Weve got someone there, and hes got a studio big enough for him. We like Alex very much, and he does some really cool work. He has a bigger vision, and perhaps he will buy the building and restore it. Who knows?
Although these businesses are technically outside of the Linen District, each likes to associate with it, and thats cool, says Linen developer David Hale.
Hale started the Linen District, named for the American Laundry Building turned event center at 14th and Grove streets, in 2005. Though its not an official Boise designated neighborhood, its boundaries are west of 13th Street, south of Main, north of Front Street and east of 16th.
On those blocks youll find an eclectic mix of local businesses: The Modern Hotel and Bar, Big City Coffee, Second Chance Building Materials Center and aTavola Gourmet Marketplace. They all brand themselves as part of the Linen District.
On its outskirts to the north, Boise Rock School and The WaterCooler on 14th and Idaho streets associate themselves with the district, too. And bringing in this new batch actually is part of the long-range plan, Hale says.
I wanted to start with something small just six blocks that over time would expand to sort of mean the west side of Downtown, Hale says.
All three of the new businesses are just right for that spot and the urban buildings they inhabit, says Cece Gassner, Mayor Dave Bieters assistant for economic development. The area is within walking distance of the BoDo retail center and across Front Street from the planned $70 million Jacks Urban Meeting Place.
They all have a creative ethos that fits down there, Gassner says. And they make a great bridge between the Linen District and whats going on at JUMP and in BoDo.