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Citizen-advisory votes on library, stadium may not be possible, Boise mayor says

David Klinger on public vote initiatives

David Klinger, spokesman for Boise Working Together, says his group will discuss whether to move forward on initiatives calling for a public vote on the new library and stadium proposals. The city says the vote would be unconstitutional.
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David Klinger, spokesman for Boise Working Together, says his group will discuss whether to move forward on initiatives calling for a public vote on the new library and stadium proposals. The city says the vote would be unconstitutional.

Boise may not have legal authority to call a citywide advisory vote on plans for an $85 million replacement for the Downtown library and for a new stadium, Mayor David Bieter says.

“It doesn’t appear that’s an option available to us,” Bieter told the Boise City Council on Tuesday, leading the council to shelve discussions about a vote for now.

But that may not stop a citizens group from gathering voters’ signatures to put two initiatives on the ballot.

A group called Boise Working Together has proposed a pair of initiatives on the library and stadium. The group emerged late last year after both proposals ran into public opposition. Last month, a city attorney said letting voters decide the fate of those projects in such initiatives would be unconstitutional, but the group is still considering them.

“Tonight’s discussion seemed to be more of an analysis of why the city could not legally authorize an advisory vote on its own,” said David Klinger, a spokesman for Boise Working Together. “That doesn’t really change our right to go forward with a signature-gathering process.”

In December, the city approved an $11 million contract with renowned architect Moshe Safdie to design the library, budgeted to cost $85 million. Safdie’s initial design was to cost $104 million. The city has been looking for ways to cut that cost to the budgeted amount. The city has decided to delay building an events center that was to cost $9 million. But the cost of the project has raised concerns.

Boise Public Library Director Kevin Booe uses a model of architect Moshe Safdie's proposed Downtown Boise library to explore the building's viewscapes and features.

Meanwhile, an Atlanta-based developer, Greenstone Properties, plans to build a stadium for the Boise Hawks baseball team and for soccer in the West End, on the south side of Main Street between Whitewater Park Boulevard and 27th Street. Managing Principal Chris Schoen also runs Agon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Hawks.

Initially, Greenstone was looking at a site at Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive, but Schoen decided last summer that the West End property suited the company’s needs better. Greenstone still has not nailed down details needed to advance the revised project.

Public money is key to Greenstone’s plan, and that has drawn criticism. Under plans made public in 2017, the city would contribute $3 million and the Greater Boise Auditorium District $5 million. Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency, would borrow money to cover the rest of the stadium’s roughly $40 million cost, the Statesman reported that year.

Greenstone would build at least $60 million of private development around the stadium, including office, retail and residential space. Property taxes from that development and lease payments from the Hawks ownership group would cover CCDC’s loan payments. The city would own the stadium after CCDC’s debt is paid off.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Bieter said the city’s legal staff checked with Ada County and was told that cities “may not have the authority to do an advisory ballot.” He said he was told that changed when the state consolidated municipal elections a few years ago and counties began conducting those elections.

“It does seem odd that it isn’t available to cities where it is to counties, but that may be the case,” Bieter said.

Bieter said the city will determine whether that interpretation is correct. But his announcement quelled discussion for the moment on whether the city would seek an advisory vote, which would advise the council but would be nonbinding.

Next week: The Cabin

Instead, the council voted to hold a public discussion at its meeting next Tuesday solely on the library proposal and on moving The Cabin from its location southeast of the existing library — another plan that has drawn opposition. The council also voted to move the meeting, scheduled for the afternoon, to 6 p.m. so more members of the public could attend.

Councilwoman Elaine Clegg said the council should make a final decision on whether to move The Cabin across Capitol Boulevard to Julia Davis Park and should take public input before that vote. It’s not clear whether that vote could take place Tuesday, but it is a possibility, city spokesman Mike Journee said Wednesday.

Clegg said the council has been asked to comment on the stadium proposal, but that so far, no plans have been submitted to the city.

Boise resident Mark Baltes said he wants to hear from the council on how much the library will cost and how the city plans to pay for it. Baltes said he worries about cost overruns that could push the project well over the $85 million budgeted. He thinks an adequate library could be built for far less.

“Those are real-life concerns,” he said.

Business Editor David Staats contributed.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.

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