Garden City developer plans revitalization project at 34th and Carr Streets
A 33-year-old could hold the keys to an increasingly desirable piece of Garden City's eastern end.
"It's all in that lady's hands, whether she ruins it or makes it awesome," said Lucas Erlebach, co-owner of Push and Pour, a coffee shop that opened 18 months ago on the corner of 34th and Carr streets.
"That lady" is Hannah Ball, the tenacious, straight-talking, muscle car-loving force behind a remake of the area between the Boise River, Chinden Boulevard and Veterans Memorial Parkway.
Ball doesn't fit the developer mold. She wears jeans and T-shirts, not suits. Instead of a posh SUV or a Mercedes, she drives a red 2016 Dodge Challenger — the one with the 5.7-liter Hemi engine. She speaks quietly. She stands just 5 feet tall.
She spent a good chunk of her teenage years in a Garden City mobile home, an experience she disliked. In January, when she bought two lots next to the river with 15 aging mobile homes on them, she didn't soft-pedal her intentions. She told the residents she intended to move them out and tear down their homes.
"I grew up with such a chip on my shoulder living in a trailer," Ball said. "If I buy a site with trailers, they're going down. And they're going down quickly."
She is no less direct about her plans for buildings on other properties she has acquired: She'll tear them all down to make room for new ones.
Her dream is big: to turn 34th Street between Chinden and the river into a cool, edgy version of Hyde Park in Boise's North End or Bown Crossing in Southeast Boise. She wants to finish transforming the street by this time next year. By mid-2019, she wants to add townhouses, cottages and other compact homes on the streets around 34th.
Ball has yet to receive city approval for a single building, but she has purchased land, is laying plans and lining up financing.
"We want to blow Hyde Park out of the water," she said. "We feel that this is much better land, because it's new and we can create what parking looks like and bike racks look like."
The 'East End' is born
Ball grew up in a farming family in New Meadows. When she was 15, the family moved to a mobile-home park on 51st Street.
At 19, she joined the Army. She served for 10 years, mostly as an assistant to a first sergeant. She promised herself that when she got out, she would come back to Garden City, free of the stigma she had always felt about it.
Shortly after her discharge, she sat on the riverbank and made peace with her Garden City roots.
"If I don't like it, I need to do something about it," she said she told herself. "I need to clean it up. And really, this isn't too big of a city that you can't go and physically clean it up yourself."
She took aim at the city's original town site, where 70-year-old mobile and stick-built homes stand side-by-side with auto-repair shops, a saw sharpener, a granite company and new, upscale wineries like Telaya Wine Co., just west of the Riverside Hotel. She calls it the "East End." Mayor John Evans said that's as good a name as any, since Garden City doesn't have an official title for the area.
Ball had the energy, but she needed money to see her vision through. So she started hitting up potential investors.
"I must've asked 1,000 people for money," she said.
Ball declined to identify her investors. She said some are businesspeople and others philanthropists.
The affordability question
Ball formed her company, Urban Land Development, in 2015 and set up shop on the corner of 34th and Carr — across 34th Street from Push and Pour. Once she had money, she started buying up land. She said she spent two years trying to persuade the owner of two lots just north of her office — where the 15 trailers were located — to sell to her.
She finally succeeded in January. Then she removed the trailers. Her decision heightened concerns about the loss of Garden City's affordable housing.
Erlebach and his partner in Push and Pour, Brennan Conroy, said they're not convinced removing those homes was the right move. Conroy said clearing the land doesn't help their business.
"People would still come down here if there were a trailer park right there," he said.
Evans pointed out that the city can't control whether landowners sell and buyers demolish existing buildings.
"Those are private-sector, willing-buyer, willing-seller kinds of transactions," he said.
Instead, Garden City encourages new affordable housing through loose zoning standards and an enthusiasm for projects like the cottage-style homes that NeighborWorks Boise, a nonprofit developer, has built around town, Evans said.
Evans said Ball has been conscientious about matching her proposals to the vision the city's comprehensive plan lays out for the old town site's redevelopment.
"We've got a mixture of high-end housing, niche entertainment, nonprofit, artisan kinds of things — and you can get your transmission fixed," the mayor said. "That creates this character that I think Hannah wants to capture."
Today, Ball owns the equivalent of about 40 5,000-square-foot lots in the East End, 12 of which are on 34th Street. She said she'll plan, plat, design and secure city authorization to build the projects. But she'll sell the projects to builders to finish the job.
She's not the first developer to see fertile ground near the river in Garden City.
NeighborWorks has built dozens of new homes there in recent years.
Since 2004, Jim Neill has planned hundreds of standalone homes, townhomes and apartments in the Waterfront District, located next to the river at 36th Street. Most of those homes have been completed by other builders.
Farther west, Bill Truax finished Trailwinds Apartments, located west of Veterans Memorial Parkway between Adams Street and the river, in late 2015. Now, he's building Parkway Station, a collection of small standalone homes, townhomes and apartments, with office space and retail stores next door.
Some of these projects cause friction. Victor Myers, owner of Corridor Paddle Surf Shop near the east end of 35th Street, is frustrated because the Waterfront District's most recent phase is taking longer than expected. Boise builder Vertical Construction hopes to finish 33 townhomes, called Waterhouse Row, by the end of the year, said Bryant Forrester, a real estate broker who is marketing the project through his company, Urban Concepts.
The construction site is blocking the easy path his customers once used between his business and the Greenbelt and Boise Whitewater Park, a hot spot for surfers, kayakers and other whitewater enthusiasts that's located in the river just north of Corridor. When the Waterfront phase is done, it will include an 8-foot-wide path that allows the public to walk between the river and Corridor.
Myers also co-owns The Yardarm, a beach-themed bar next to the surf shop. He said the Waterfront construction is costing his businesses "hundreds of dollars a day."
"These guys have the nerve to call their building project a surfer's paradise while they're basically spite-blocking us on our easement," he said.
There's nothing spiteful about the delay, Forrester said; the permitting process simply took longer than hoped.
Prices for the 33 new townhomes will be around $350,000 for smaller units and between $650,000 and $700,000 for larger ones, Forrester said.
'Ill repute and a whole lot of weird'
The transformation of this corner of town is a two-edged sword for people who live and do business there.
Meryl Lingard, who lives next to the river on 33rd Street, expressed the conflicting sentiments many seem to share: sorrow over the loss of staples like the mobile-home park and other buildings and hope for cool new things..
"I like a lot of the funkiness about Garden City," Lingard said. "But I like the new development. ... I like the fact there's commercial properties mixed with other properties. I like the fact that all these new restaurants have opened up. But I don't feel like I want to wipe out what Garden City is."
That's exactly the balance Ball says she is trying to achieve. She wants nice stuff in the East End, but she doesn't want to lose its rough-around-the-edges flair. She's aiming for an industrial theme along 34th Street that reflects her affinity for cars — and the area's history. She said all of her projects on 34th will include an art element.
On the aesthetics spectrum, she wants 34th Street as far from The Village at Meridian as possible.
"I love what Garden City was," she said. "I love that it was the auto-body, manufacturing, American companies with a little bit of ill repute and a whole lot of weird."