Some state employees working Downtown would welcome the chance to relocate to West Boise if the state buys the 200-acre Hewlett-Packard campus as planned. Others wouldn’t.
“Some are delighted because they live on that side of town,” said Bob Geddes, who oversees state properties as the director of the Department of Administration. “Others will have to commute. Some employees bought homes near their offices. It will benefit some and hurt others.”
State officials have signed a nonbinding agreement to buy HP’s campus on Chinden Boulevard in northwest Boise for $110 million to house state agencies that would move in over the next several years, starting this spring. HP would stay put, leasing the space it still needs for at least seven years. The Idaho House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a resolution authorizing the purchase. It awaits action in the Senate.
The Tax Commission is the only department that state officials already have decided to relocate. That is because the agency’s lease in the Washington Group Plaza, the former Morrison-Knudsen headquarters complex at Park Boulevard and Broadway Avenue on the east edge of Downtown, ends in June. They cannot stay, because St. Luke’s Health System is buying the 23-acre plaza for its own use, Geddes said.
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Geddes and his deputy director, Keith Reynolds, met with Tax Commission employees for 90 minutes last week just before Geddes introduced the resolution in the Legislature.
The Tax Commission has spent the last 26 years in the plaza. Reynolds said many employees have never worked anywhere else.
“The truth is, they were going to have to move somewhere because of the lease situation,” Reynolds said. “It was impossible to make everybody happy.”
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The state has about 17,600 employees, not including university employees, according to the Idaho Controller’s Office. Of those, “a majority or supermajority” work in Boise, Geddes said.
The state owns the Capitol and 11 other buildings and two parking garages in an area around the Statehouse known as the Capitol Mall. Those aren’t enough. So the state spends $12.6 million annually leasing more than 800,000 square feet of office and commercial space at about 90 Boise locations, including 12 Downtown offices.
State leaders have a tentative deal to buy the HP campus for $110 million and spend $16 million on property improvements. They believe it would save taxpayer money in the long run by reducing the amount of private property the state leases.
The state will not sell its Capitol Mall buildings or relocate those workers, Geddes said. The departments and officials working there need access to the Statehouse, he said.
The Department of Administration is one. Geddes said he and Reynolds cross State Street to the Statehouse five to 10 times per day when the Legislature is in session.
“It’s the same for the Controller’s Office and the Department of Insurance,” Geddes said. “The officials [in the Capitol Mall] want to be near the Capitol.”
The Fish and Game and Finance departments, which also lease offices at Washington Group Plaza, will likely move to the HP too, he said. Fish and Game’s lease expires in June 2019. Finance’s expires in July 2021.
So will the 49-employee Public Utilities Commission. The state last fall auctioned off the building that houses the commission’s headquarters at the corner of Fifth and Washington streets. The Department of Lands decided to sell its commercial properties after the state Land Board took criticism for competing with the private sector. It sold five Downtown properties and plans to sell another one plus six parking lots in 2017.
The commission’s lease expires in May 2019.
News of the HP purchase has “generated a lot of conversation” at the office, spokesman Gene Fadness said.
“We like our Downtown location. We like our underground parking garage,” Fadness said. “People are resistant to change, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to change.”
Donna Yule, executive director of the Idaho Public Employees Association, said she has talked with several union members who are happy to relocate. One Health and Welfare employee told Yule that Downtown parking is a problem, and her department had outgrown its office at 450 W. State St.
Geddes said several agencies needing more space have asked to be considered for relocation.
“Like it or not, our government is going to get bigger as the population increases to meet the needs of our citizens,” Geddes said.
Zach Kyle: 208-377-6464, @ZachKyleNews