Some Boiseans have been talking and dreaming about a new baseball stadium for at least seven years.
Ideas have come and gone, most without a serious planning phase. A new proposal, which the Idaho Statesman recently reported, might be as close to reality as any since 2010. That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing. In fact, most gamblers probably would give it less than a 50 percent chance of happening, based on Boise’s history of failed proposals and the sheer complexity of the transactions that would be necessary.
Here’s a look at the proposal and what it would take for the stadium to get built just southwest of the core of Downtown Boise:
Q: What kind of stadium would this be?
The proposal anticipates a multiuse stadium for the Boise Hawks, the area’s minor league baseball team, and minor league soccer, as well as prep sports tournaments, concerts, festivals and other events. Some have suggested that Boise State University would use the stadium for a baseball team and women’s lacrosse team, but the university’s level of interest is unclear.
Q: Where would it be located?
Between Americana Boulevard, Shoreline Drive, 14th Street and Spa Street. The exact situating of the stadium on that parcel is one of many details to be worked out.
Developer Chris Schoen, who’s part of the group that owns the Hawks, and his development company, Greenstone Properties, also would build some $60 million of retail, office, housing and parking space in the immediate area.
Q: Who owns that land now?
A company managed by St. Luke’s health system. St. Luke’s has thrown some skepticism at the stadium proposal, saying it is negotiating with more than one potential buyer.
Q: How big would the stadium be?
Right now it’s expected to take up about four acres and seat 5,000 people, though either of those numbers could change.
“I don’t think it’ll be less than 5,000 seats,” said City Councilman Scot Ludwig, who’s been working to make the deal happen.
Q: What’s wrong with where the Hawks play now?
Owners of the Hawks, dating to before the team was a Colorado Rockies affiliate, have tried unsuccessfully for years to replace Memorial Stadium, the nearly 30-year-old venue in Garden City that the team calls home. It doesn’t have modern facilities that athletes or fans want. On hot, sunny days, fans can bake in the uncovered stands.
Q: How much would the new stadium cost?
About $41 million, based on early estimates.
Q: Who would pay that money?
Greenstone would chip in $1 million for the stadium, according to the proposal. The remainder would come from a variety of public sources, including possible cash contributions from the city of Boise and Greater Boise Auditorium District, a government agency whose mission is to promote economic growth through the construction or management of convention and other gathering centers, including “sports arenas,” under Idaho law. The district gets its money from a 5 percent tax on hotel room rentals. It owns and operates Boise Centre, a convention venue located on The Grove Plaza in Downtown Boise.
The city’s urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corporation, likely would borrow money for the stadium and pay it back over a 20-year period. Private investment is also possible.
Q: Who would own the stadium?
This is another detail that has to be worked out. The city of Boise and the auditorium district are the leading candidates, Ludwig said. After buying the land from St. Luke’s, Greenstone would donate the acreage to the stadium’s eventual owner.
Q: What about ongoing costs, such as debt payments and maintenance?
Ludwig said yearly debt payments should come to about $2 million.
Greenstone’s commercial-residential project would generate additional tax revenue that would go to CCDC through the creation of a new urban renewal district. That money would cover about half the debt service.
Other money would come from the Hawks, which would be the stadium’s main tenant. The amount the team would pay has yet to be settled, Ludwig said. Other regular tenants — potentially a minor league soccer team — also would pay to use the stadium, as would organizers of tournaments, concerts and other events.
Q: What is the auditorium district’s appetite for this project?
That depends. Hy Kloc, who serves on the board of directors, sounded bullish.
“A ballfield is just something that a city growing like Boise needs,” Kloc said. “All the cities I’ve visited that have ball, they seem to be thriving. So I would really like to explore that possibility and figure out a way how the auditorium district can get involved with that.”
Fellow board member Judy Peavey-Derr took more of a wait-and-see stance. She said the district needs to know more about how the recent expansion of its event venue, Boise Centre, will affect the bottom line.
“I don’t want to jeopardize the operation of the newest facility that we have,” Peavey-Derr said. “But if it’s possible and if the numbers are there, (a stadium) is certainly reasonable to consider.”
Q: When could construction begin?
If everything breaks as planned, groundbreaking could occur in the summer of 2018, Ludwig said.
Q: When would the stadium be complete?
The plan right now calls for the Hawks and a minor league soccer team to take the field in their new home in 2020. It’s unclear which soccer teams, if any, might be interested in playing in Boise.
Q: Can the project happen if BSU says no?
Ludwig said the stadium could get built without the university, but Boise State’s help would be welcome.
Q: Would the land have to be rezoned?
A new urban renewal district would have a master plan that anticipates uses and lays out zoning designations for the stadium and other land within the district. Prior to developing this district, Ludwig said, the city would conduct a study on potential ways the land could be used and their economic impacts.
Q: What’s Ludwig’s role? Does he have a financial stake?
As a city councilman, Ludwig has acted as a go-between for the various parties involved, from Greenstone and St. Luke’s to GBAD, CCDC and city government. He’s also an attorney and developer with experience in putting together commercial deals.
Ludwig said he has no interest in seeing the project through, “other than as a Boisean that sees the public use and economic benefits.”
“To have any financial interest in this effort would be unethical,” he said.
Q: Will there be a tax increase to pay for the stadium?
Not as proposed, though a lot of the money would come from taxes. The urban renewal agency would use property taxes generated by the new development to pay off loans. The auditorium district would spend hotel-tax money on the stadium. Any city contributions also would come from taxes.
The district and city could use their money on other initiatives if they don’t help pay for the stadium. The urban renewal agency’s contributions would come from Greenstone’s commercial-residential project, which probably won’t happen without the stadium.
Q: Is this just another case of taxpayers footing the bill for a private stadium?
That depends on perspective. On one hand, the stadium — and the taxpayer money that helps build it — would benefit the private group that owns the Hawks and Greenstone, a private developer.
On the other hand, Greenstone would donate the land it bought for the stadium, likely to a public agency whose constituents would benefit from events held there. The Hawks would pay the public agency to use the stadium.
Local governments have a reason for making facilities like this happen beyond just a love of sports. The general idea is that the investment in infrastructure and facilities generates economic activity that benefits the economy, the community and the overall tax base, as well as offering amenities to residents and boosting a struggling area on the edge of Downtown.
Q: What would the parking situation be?
Part of Greenstone’s proposal is to build a private parking garage where people attending Hawks games could pay to park. The exact number of spaces is unclear.
Q: Are rising bond rates cause for concern?
Yes. Ludwig said bond rates need to stay low in order to keep the yearly debt payments on the stadium affordable. He said he doesn’t have enough concrete information on how much the stadium will cost and which groups will pay how much to say what the bond rate threshold is.
Q: Will this project actually happen?
The likelihood is hard to handicap, because it’s such a complex negotiation between so many private and public groups. The big hurdle right now is the negotiation between Greenstone and St. Luke’s.
If St. Luke’s accepts an offer from Greenstone, Ludwig said, “I think there’s a 50 percent chance this gets built.”