Eagle’s leaders are excited about new terrain park

On the other hand, Ada County commissioners ... not so much.

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comSeptember 15, 2013 

When the economy tanked and tax dollars for parks became scarce, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter urged the state parks department to get creative and find new ways to fund park improvements.

Also strapped for park dollars, the city of Eagle decided to follow the governor’s lead and find a way to bring more amenities to its parks at little to no cost for city taxpayers.

The city learned of a chance to create Idaho’s first urban terrain park through a public-private partnership on land the city leases from Ada County for the Ada-Eagle Sports Complex. Its partner: Ryan Neptune, an internationally renowned snowboarder, terrain park builder and Boise native.

Neptune told the city he would like to build — at no cost to the city — a $1 million winter terrain park on seven acres within the 200-acre park off Horseshoe Bend Road.

Plans call for using snowmaking machines to create the snow for a tubing hill and a terrain park with jumps, rails and snow-sculpted features for boarders and skiers.

In August, the City Council approved a concession agreement with Neptune.

But the less-than-thrilled Ada County commissioners have chastised Eagle because the commission was never formally approached about the project, which is on landfill buffer land.

“We are not familiar with the project. The project has not been presented to us,” Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre said during a meeting earlier this month with city officials and Neptune. “I have to tell you I am a little disappointed. It seems to me we are coming in on the back end of this process after a ton of work has been done, a lot of negotiations have been made and in my mind we are the landlord here.”

Commissioners David Case and Jim Tibbs echoed Yzaguirre’s concerns.

“If you have a project you want to sell to the county, you need to talk to the elected officials, not the staff,” Tibbs said.

In June, Eagle staff forwarded information to county staff about the project, but Eagle did not schedule a formal meeting with the commissioners. Over the summer the Eagle City Council held two open houses on the project and posted the plans, draft agreement and other information on the city website.

“Everything we have learned has been through the media or third parties,” Case said. “I am not going to a city’s website to look stuff up.”

The city’s lease agreement with the county allows it to enter into concession agreements, so the city did not think it needed county permission. But Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Jana Gomez told the commissioners she is unsure if the terrain park agreement complies with the lease agreement or state law because patrons would be charged to use the public park’s amenities.

All of the amenities, including the skateboard park and bike trails, will remain open to the public at no charge, but a ticket would be required to ride the magic carpet lift. The city will receive 10 percent of all ticket sales.

Yzaguirre said he is concerned “a for-profit business is coming onto county property to create a profit for their benefit.”

Eagle City Councilwoman Mary Defayette said Ada County already has a similar concession agreement with a private company, Epley’s, to operate the float tube rental facility at the county’s Barber Park. Epley’s pays the county an annual fee and a percentage of gross sales. The county also charges citizens to park at Barber Park during the summer, something area city parks do not do. The county also has agreements with the for-profit Boise Hawks to use the county-owned stadium area, and the for-profit Treasure Valley Racing to conduct horse races at the county fairgrounds.

Neptune, who helped design terrain parks for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, told the Statesman he was taken aback by the commissioners’ response.

He and his company, Gateway Parks, have already built three urban terrain parks via public/private partnerships with county or parks departments in Lansing, Mich., Milwaukee, Wisc., and Rockford, Ill. He said those processes went smoothly and the agencies welcomed his expertise, resources and connections to major ski and snowboard companies.

“But to come to your own hometown and be treated like this,” Neptune said.

Not only is Neptune proposing to bring a one-of-a-kind park to the area, he is considering getting rid of one of Eagle’s eyesores — he has the option to purchase the dilapidated former Lazy J bar on Horseshoe Bend Road.

“It has been a menace for decades,” Defayette told the commissioners.

Neptune said he would clean up the property and use it to augment the terrain park, including possibly opening a retail store or a restaurant.

“He would come in, clean up that mess and have a viable business. That would make so many people happy: the neighbors, the city, the fire department. I think Ada County would be happy to see that go away,” Defayette said.

The commissioners said they want to learn more about Neptune’s project and do more due diligence about what is allowable under the lease agreement before making any decisions about it.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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