Tommy Ahlquist, one of the most important developers in Downtown Boise and an unsuccessful candidate in Idaho's gubernatorial primary last month, has left his job at Gardner Co.
Ahlquist said his decision to leave Gardner was not the result of deteriorating relationships with other leaders at Gardner, a Salt Lake City development company founded by Kem C. Gardner, its CEO. In fact, Ahlquist said he'll help manage Gardner's existing Idaho buildings and might work with his old colleagues on new projects.
"No falling out at all," said Ahlquist, who was Gardner's former chief operating officer and lead in Idaho. "It will be a very friendly relationship with Gardner Co. going forward."
Gardner Co. in Salt Lake City did not immediately return a telephone message Friday afternoon.
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Ahlquist said he has started a new company alongside an Idaho Falls-based development firm. Ahlquist said Friday was his first day at Ball Ventures Ahlquist, or BVA. He said he'll be an equal partner in the new company with Ball Ventures, which owns some 2.7 million square feet of retail, grocery, hotel and other commercial space across 13 states, including Idaho, Arizona, Texas and Missouri.
Ahlquist, a physician, built a reputation as a force in Downtown Boise by developing the Eighth & Main building, now Idaho's tallest. Ahlquist and Gardner filled a lot that sat empty for 25 years, vexing developers who hatched grand plans only to see them fail.
Then U.S. Bank, then City Center Plaza
In 2013, with Eighth & Main still under construction, Gardner bought the U.S. Bank building, the second tallest building in Idaho. Ahlquist then took on City Center Plaza, built on the property that came with the U.S. Bank building.
City Center Plaza was a more imaginative and, in some ways, more ambitious project than Eighth & Main. It includes the Clearwater Building just west of the U.S. Bank tower, an expansion of Boise Centre, Downtown's biggest convention venue, and a new, federally funded underground bus station.
The bus station and Boise Centre expansion were both longstanding proposals and, like the Eighth & Main lot, had bogged down due to a variety of obstacles. Ahlquist helped negotiate deals that paved the way for their construction.
State records show Ball Ventures CEO Cortney Liddiard, who'll work alongside Ahlquist, organized at least five companies Thursday whose names start "BVA" — BVA Capital, Development, Investments, Management and Ventures. Ahlquist's father, Tom, Sr., will join him at BVA.
Ahlquist said joining Ball will broaden his reach, allowing him to take on projects Gardner might not have. While Gardner has concentrated its Idaho projects primarily in the Treasure Valley, BVA will focus on building and owning medical buildings across Idaho and in surrounding states, he said.
Ahlquist, a former emergency room doctor, placed third in May's Republican primary. He said Friday that traveling the state showed him a need for more medical facilities. His experience in medicine will help form those projects, he said.
He started his own firm, Ahlquist Development, in 2006. The company merged with Gardner in 2010. Shortly after that, he said, the company began plans for Eighth & Main.
Gardner's latest Downtown project is Pioneer Crossing, under construction between 11th, Front, 13th and Myrtle streets. It will include a hotel, parking garage, restaurant and office building. Some Boise developers and architects are less enthusiastic about Pioneer Crossing than some of Gardner's other projects.
David Wali, Gardner's executive vice president, will take over Ahlquist's previous duties. "We'll miss him, but we'll continue on trying to do great projects for Downtown," Wali said.
Wali, himself a polished developer, hotelier and deal-maker, said it will take some time to adjust to Ahlquist's departure. He said he won't change Gardner's operations much.
"I have a few more things to add to the community," Wali said.
'Where I belong'
Besides Pioneer Crossing, the company's biggest job in Downtown Boise is a 146-apartment project on Park Boulevard.
"I will miss having a friend right down the hall from me. But I'm pretty sure he's still a phone call away."
Ahlquist said leaving Gardner will not give him more down time with his family.
"I'm not wired that way," he said. "I love working. I love surrounding myself with people — I call it 'with kerosene in their veins' — that know how to go get it done. And that's when I'm happiest. And then, we play hard as a family."
He also said he has no plans for a return to politics.
"I'm back in business, which is where I belong," he said.