Located at the heart of Downtown Boise, The Grove Plaza has been a gathering space since it opened in December 1986, playing host to countless city celebrations, concerts, parties, cultural events, Christmas tree lightings and farmers markets.
Now, after three years of construction on and around it, a redesigned plaza is ready to be unveiled and celebrated at the unofficial start of Boise’s summer.
“Every great city needs a great public square, and this is a beautiful space,” said Lynn Hightower, who heads the Downtown Boise Association, the organization that produces events in The Grove Plaza. “The beloved fountain will be back, and with seating and more shade, it’s going to draw more people.”
A short ceremony Wednesday will precede the relaunch of Alive After Five, the annual midweek concert series, at the plaza. The event took place last summer at the nearby Basque Block.
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Doug Woodruff, a landscape architect with Capital City Development Corporation, Boise’s urban renewal agency and the organization that owns the space, headed the project to remake the plaza.
“We felt this was the best time to reinvest in the city’s most important public space,” Woodruff said. “It’s 30 years old, the bricks were buckling, the fountain didn’t meet current codes, trees were in decline. It became clear we needed to do something, and the construction of the City Center Plaza offered the perfect opportunity.”
The new City Center Plaza nearby was developed by the Gardner Company and includes an underground transit center, the Boise Centre expansion and office space. Woodruff worked with Gardner and other stakeholders on renovation plans.
“When we started planning for the City Center project, The Grove was a major part of our thinking and ultimately it influenced the very nature of the buildings,” said David Wali, who represented Gardner on the plaza renovation committee.
There are different aspects of each building that flow into Grove Plaza. The vaulted archway of an atrium that leads to the Clearwater Building, part of City Center, includes blue streams of concrete embedded with brass fish that move toward the fountain. The sky bridge that leads to the Boise Centre provides more shade and gives the plaza a new feel. And the outside of Boise Centre along the south corridor eventually will be home to a unique light show.
“People were really concerned that it would feel more enclosed,” Woodruff said. “We worked to make sure that didn’t happen and I think we succeeded.”
The Grove Plaza has seen four decades of major growth around it. When it was built in 1986, the only building standing nearby was U.S. Bank. The Wells Fargo Building came along in 1988 on the northwest side, and the Boise Centre opened in 1990 on the southwest. The arena that now bears the name CenturyLink opened on the southeast corner in 1996, and The Grove Hotel opened a year later. The City Center Plaza work began in 2014 and just wrapped up.
The completion of The Grove Plaza’s renovation represents more than just a single achievement, Wali said.
“I grin ear to ear every time I walk through it,” Wali said. “It’s the culmination of three and a half years that finally finishes 8th Street from BoDo to the Statehouse. It’s a fully active corridor.”
▪ The fountain, sponsored by Suez Water, figures to be one of the most beloved aspects of the plaza. When the Downtown Boise Association and CCDC went through surveys of what people wanted, the overwhelming response was a bigger, better fountain, Woodruff said.
“It’s a cherished feature,” he said.
The old fountain had 21 jets and a single pump. The new fountain has 25 jets and each one has its own programmable pump that can shoot water up to 20 feet in the air.
It’s all run through a computer program, so there are lots of possibilities for designing water displays. The fountain also has LED full-spectrum lighting effects — imagine blue and orange water shooting above the plaza for a Boise State event, for instance, or red-white-and-blue water on the Fourth of July.
▪ Free WiFi: Something else people asked for in the surveys. Look for TheGrovePlaza network.
▪ Artwork: Ann LaRose’s bronze sculpture “Keepsies” found a new home at the Boise Senior Center. Its replacement is a contemporary stainless steel sculpture called “Mazama Glacier” by Julie Speidel. Gardner’s Kem Gardner purchased the piece at Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum for the plaza.
▪ Mobile stage: At the Christmas Tree lighting, Woodruff and others discovered that the acoustics had changed. Having the stage between the Boise Centre and Wells Fargo buildings, its usual place, did not work well. The solution is a mobile stage that can be repositioned depending on the event. For Alive After Five the stage will be on the east side of the plaza.
▪ Sound and lights: The plaza is now wired for sound and lighting. A small sound system with wireless microphones is available for use for a lecture or other presentation, but not for bands. There also are new LED lights.
▪ Bricks: The old dog bone-shaped bricks were chipping and buckling. CCDC was able to re-etch new bricks with the names of the original donors and then add bricks for new donors. There are 14,000 “founders bricks,” and 4,500 are new.
▪ More shade: The survey respondents asked for more shaded sitting areas. New seating with umbrella tables offers that, and new buildings and structures do as well.
▪ Cool lights on the south spoke: The Boise Centre is adding a visual arts project to the outside of its building that will enhance the south spoke leading to the plaza, said Pat Rice, the executive directer. “The center partnered on the plaza, and CCDC asked us to activate that area and make it more public friendly,” Rice says. “... We want this to be a community asset.”
In early August the center will install a series of LED lights that will be synced to music along that corridor. It is working with Danish company Martin Harman, which created the technology. The number of pieces and size of the installation are still being worked out. Also, collaborations with local musicians and video artists are in the works.
Alive After Five, Grove Plaza
Grand Reopening: 4:15-8 p.m., Wednesday, June 7, free of charge
4:15 p.m.: Official welcome
4:25 p.m.: Guitarist-singer Ned Evett
5 p.m.: Dedication ceremony of The Grove Plaza fountain
5:15 p.m.: Singer-songwriter Steve Fulton
6:15 p.m.: Portland-based band Shook Twins, originally from North Idaho