Group seeking donations to buy land next to Idaho Shakespeare Festival venue

The Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands has until the end of the year to raise enough money to pay for the property.

sberg@idahostatesman.comMarch 8, 2014 

A scene unfolded Friday in The Grove Hotel that just a few weeks ago would have been hard to imagine.

Developer Jim Conger and Idaho Shakespeare Festival Managing Director Mark Hofflund stood together, talking and smiling.

There was no sign between them of the bitter, yearlong dispute over a 43-home development Conger wanted to build on 12 acres just west of the Shakespeare Festival’s amphitheater in Boise’s East End. More than 11 hours of public hearings, during which Hofflund and dozens of festival supporters opposed Conger, were forgotten. The men celebrated the sale of the 12 acres to the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands.

The last time Hofflund and Conger made public appearances in the same room was mid-January, at a seven-hour hearing before the Boise City Council. At that meeting, dozens of festival supporters repeated their concerns that noise from the homes in Conger’s development would make performances in the outdoor theater less enjoyable, and that people living in the homes would eventually complain about noise from the amphitheater and try to shut it down.

The council approved Conger’s request to annex the 12 acres into city limits but rejected his development plan. Council members ordered mediation between Conger, the Shakespeare Festival and David and Ann Triplett, who owned a 49-percent stake in the property. That mediation was supposed to take place this week, but the deal made it unnecessary.

In addition to buying the land, the foundation will pay to clean up two inactive sewage lagoons on the property and compensate Conger for time and money he put into planning the housing development. The total cost of the deal: more than $1 million.

No one at Friday’s event would give a more specific dollar amount. Conger wouldn’t say how much he’ll receive or if that amount is more than he put into the project.

“It’s a great deal for everybody. It’s a good day,” he said.

Conger, the Tripletts and Jerry Rees, who owns a 51-percent stake in the property, received half their money Tuesday, said Jan Johns, the foundation’s administrator. The rest is due by the end of the year, Johns said. Between now and then, the foundation will seek donations for the amount owed. Foundation representatives wouldn’t discuss any other details.

Larry Leasure, a foundation board member, is confident the foundation will be able to raise the money this year. Even if it can’t, he said, the foundation could take out loans or renegotiate the deal so that ownership doesn’t revert back to the Tripletts and Rees.

“We’re certainly not going to allow that to happen,” Leasure said. “We’ve never lost a piece of property when we’ve committed to move forward. We will make it happen.”

The foundation has begun working out a plan for cleaning up the sewage lagoons, Boise Director Brian McDevitt said. The cost depends on what the foundation plans to do with the land, McDevitt said. Adding buildings or places where people are meant to recreate would require a deep remediation process that might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said, but leaving the land undeveloped would require a much less intense remediation.

In the coming months, McDevitt said, the foundation will hold meetings with nearby neighborhood associations, the Shakespeare Festival and the public to find out what they want to happen with the property.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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