The first question is: How much money would the auditorium district need to contribute to construction costs to make the project happen? Initial estimates are around $4 million.
All four candidates for two open spots on the district’s board of directors say they like the concept of a Downtown Boise stadium for minor league baseball, minor league soccer, concerts, prep sports tournaments, festivals and other events.
But obstacles lurk in the details. Are the developers planning enough parking? How would the stadium affect traffic? How much benefit would the stadium yield in Downtown Boise? And when, exactly, would GBAD have to hand over its investment?
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These questions and many others will figure into the district’s decision on whether to support the project.
The election is at-large, so the top two vote-getters win seats. Terms are six years.
“If we put a stadium Downtown, there’s going to be more activity,” he said. “There’s going to be a need for more parking.”
As the owner of a Downtown Boise investment and accounting firm, Mecham finds parking irritating. He said the cost for him and his employees to park in a surface lot has more than doubled in the past three years.
If elected, he said, he wouldn’t support any project that didn’t provide enough parking spaces.
The other candidates acknowledged that parking is something to be considered in the stadium decision, but they didn’t draw as hard a line as Mecham. To a certain extent, parking scarcity would be a good problem, incumbent Hy Kloc said, because that would mean the stadium was attracting people to a once-stagnant area.
“I do know that most projects, they do have a way of working themselves out,” Kloc said.
Kristin Muchow, another challenger, said the exact number of parking spaces is a tricky calculation. The more parking there is, she predicted, the more people will drive instead of walking, biking or using some other type of transportation.
“However many parking spaces there are, they’re going to be filled one way or the other, if it’s 500 or if it’s 5,000,” Muchow said. “Where is the sweet spot where you encourage alternate modes of transportation, you encourage biking, walking, potentially a shuttle or some sort of public transit, while also accommodating enough cars?”
Incumbent Judy Peavey-Derr said it’s unlikely the district would get involved in the stadium project’s parking component because Boise’s urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corporation, usually manages parking supply.
Timing is a bigger concern for Peavey-Derr, who wants to make sure the district is on firm financial footing before investing in something new.
The expansion brought the ability to host much larger events than the original building could accommodate. But in approving it, the district took on new liabilities, too. Those include $1.72 million in debt payments every year, as well as bigger maintenance and utility costs.
Those items will slow the accumulation of savings in the district’s accounts. Executive Director Pat Rice expects the district will have about $2.5 million in reserves by the end of the year, on top of the roughly $7 million in contingency money needed in case of emergencies.
Rice is a famously conservative budgeter, so it’s likely the district will end up taking in more money than he projects from its 5 percent tax on hotel rooms. But will the district have enough cash on hand by the time it’s needed? And can it shell out that cash without jeopardizing its key holding, Boise Centre?
Time will answer those questions.
As soon as enough disposable money has accumulated, Peavey-Derr said, she’s happy to look at any project that will improve the district, whose boundaries encircle Boise and Garden City.
“If the project is good, makes sense for economic development and the community, and the public’s behind it, yes, of course we’d do it,” she said. “We’re working our fannies off to be good stewards of those funds.”
Of course, the stadium won’t be the only proposal to come before the winners of the district’s May 16 election.
Other proposals that fit the district’s mission already are circulating. Some, such as an aquatic center for swimming events, have been around for years but have never caught the traction the stadium proposal seems to enjoy.
The city of Boise recently hired a consultant to study the need for a performing arts center. The district has no official role in the study but likely would be asked to contribute if the project takes root.
Kloc said he’d like to see some kind of theater for ballet, opera or other performing arts. But like Peavey-Derr, he’s not locked in to one project to the exclusion of everything else.
“Whatever amenity is good for Boise is good for the auditorium district,” Kloc said. “If we have the capabilities of being involved in an aquatic center or a performing arts center, I think we should. I think rather than just accumulating money in our accounts, we should be investing that money to make the city as tourist-friendly as it can be.”
Mecham took a similar approach to potential projects involving the district. He stressed, though, that he wants any new development to include enough affordable parking.
Muchow said the stadium offers the biggest reward for the district and the hoteliers whose taxes the district spends. That’s because a stadium conceivably would bring in a lot more than a few dozen baseball games or soccer matches every year. It also could be a top-notch venue for prep sports tournaments, and it could host concerts and other big activities.
All of those events would bring people to town over weekends, filling Boise-area hotel rooms, which are in great demand during the week but often empty between Friday and Sunday nights.
Second, Muchow said, a new stadium within walking distance of Boise Centre could serve as another venue for convention activities. In her day job helping companies find venues for conventions, Muchow said her customers have used sports stadiums for this kind of event.
A stadium would enhance the attractiveness of the city for convention-goers, who like the restaurants, bars, mountain biking, rafting and other activities here, she said.
“From a planner’s perspective, it’s really important if it’s walkable,” she said. “If you have stuff that’s walkable, you don’t have to spend the money and the time on transportation. So that is huge. And I think that’s something that we really have as an asset here.”
CONTINUITY OR CHANGE?
New blood vs. experience might be the most common theme in elections. It’s especially true in this GBAD race. Neither Mecham nor Muchow has ever held elected office.
Peavey-Derr and Kloc are the longest-serving members on the board. They have plenty of political experience in other governments, too. Kloc is a state representative. Peavey-Derr is a former Ada County commissioner and member of the Ada County Highway District’s governing board.
They both arrived at the auditorium district during a tumultuous time, when board meetings frequently devolved into shouting matches and decisions were made and later unmade. The board now appears to be functioning well, as witnessed by its unity in pursuing the Boise Centre expansion.
“It’s the first time that this board has functioned as a board in a long, long time,” Peavey-Derr said. “We always have disagreements. We bring up issues and discuss them thoroughly, but in the end we’re all united. So that’s a very big piece of our success.”
Mecham didn’t begrudge the incumbents a measure of credit for their accomplishments.
“The current board members have probably done a pretty good job,” he said. “But a couple of them have been there for a long time and been in politics for a long time and we need some fresh blood in there. And I wish Kristin luck.”
Judy Peavey-Derr, incumbent
Lives in: Boise, Crescent Rim Drive
Occupation: Government affairs consultant, Boy Scout commissioner
Political experience: GBAD since 2011; two four-year terms as Ada County commissioner; four years on Ada County Highway District board of commissioners
Hy Kloc, incumbent
Lives in: Boise’s Collister Neighborhood
Political experience: GBAD since 2011; state representative since 2013
Scott Mecham, challenger
Lives in: Boise’s Collister Neighborhood
Occupation: Owner, KMS Financial
Political experience: None
Kristin Muchow, challenger
Lives in: Southeast Boise
Occupation: General manager, Meeting Systems Inc.
Political experience: None
GBAD at a glance
The Greater Boise Auditorium District was established by voters in June 1959 to encourage growth and economic activity by building and operating visitor facilities like auditoriums, arenas and convention venues. The district’s money comes from a 5 percent tax on hotel room rentals inside its boundaries, which encircle Boise and Garden City.
The district owns and operates Boise Centre, the convention venue on The Grove Plaza that just underwent a $47.5 million expansion.
Early voting starts Monday
Unlike in the past, Ada County now handles ballots for the Greater Boise Auditorium District election. For the next two weeks, the county will take early votes at two locations. Here are the details:
Ada County Elections Office
400 N. Benjamin Lane, Ste. 100, Boise
Schedule: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, May 1-May 12
10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 6
Boise City Hall
150 N. Capitol Blvd.
Schedule: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, May 1-May 12