One year after Jack’s Urban Market Place opened its doors, Executive Director Maggie Soderberg still fields the same two questions. One, when will the giant slide open? And two, so what the heck is JUMP, anyway?
Soderberg said the slide, which spirals five stories down to the courtyard between JUMP and the adjacent new J.R. Simplot Co. headquarters on the same block, will open this spring or summer.
But describing the nonprofit that lives in Downtown’s colorful, boxy building — home to an antique tractor museum, event spaces, and woodwork and dance classes, among other things — usually leads to more questions.
“We try to explain it, but the mystery will forever remain,” she said.
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The J.R. Simplot Foundation designed JUMP to be a place where people could try new things while giving a nod to the pioneering spirit of the Simplot Co. founder. JUMP spent 2016 increasing staff to 20 employees, buying equipment, rolling out classes and booking events.
JUMP has days when there are few people in the building. But Soderberg, who is married to Simplot chairman Scott Simplot, said she expects more people will be in and around the building once construction of the park and walkway between JUMP and the headquarters ends this summer.
“Our biggest hope is that people are using the space, that this place is alive,” she said. “Right now, we feel like we’re under construction. We kind of look that way, too.”
One challenge of JUMP is they brought it to the community without a template in place. It feels like they are looking to us to fill it and provide meaning for it. Certainly, Story Story Night has fit into the mold, so we’re excited about that.
Jodi Eichelberger, artistic director of Story Story Night
Use No. 1: Community classes
In its first year, JUMP hosted 335 classes taught by community members or directors of JUMP’s studios. The studios include a kitchen, exercise and dance space, a shop and a recording studio. Another studio is a catch-all space for classes in subjects including art, fashion, language and health.
Classes so far have ranged from one to eight sessions, ranging in cost from free to $200.
Matt Melton graduated from Centennial High School in 2003. He participated in the same drama program that produced “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul several years earlier. After moving to Los Angeles and landing roles in national commercials and other theater work, Melton moved back to Boise and started coaching two-session classes focused on film acting.
Several months ago, Melton moved The Actors Workout to JUMP. Since, then, about 100 people have enrolled, he said.
The studio’s cutting-edge video and recording equipment allows the actors to practice on-camera auditions and learn to act for the lens rather than for a theater audience, Melton said.
“Access to equipment has been the biggest things about our partnership with JUMP,” Melton said. “It’s top-notch stuff that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.”
Many of JUMP’s classes overlap with those offered by the Boise School District’s Community Education program, which offers all-ages classes at venues around the city. Enrollment in the schools’ program increased from nearly 4,000 in 2006 to nearly 6,500 last year, district spokesman Dan Hollar said, showing there’s enough demand to go around.
“I think JUMP is meeting a need,” Hollar said. “We’re seeing that pan out in our numbers. It’s a win-win.”
Hollar said representatives from the district and JUMP met in November to talk about collaborating on courses. While Hollar said it is too early to say what a partnership could look like, he said the district is not concerned about competing with JUMP.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to expand,” Hollar said.
Use No. 2: Events and rentals
The Boise nonprofit Story Story Night holds events featuring local speakers telling raw, personal stories in front of an audience. For several years, its events at El Korah Shrine sold out at 320 attendees.
Story Story Night’s first event at JUMP on Nov. 29 sold out with 520 tickets, making it the largest event for JUMP as well.
Story Story Night is also hosting monthly workshops at JUMP to coach aspiring storytellers. Artistic Director Jodi Eichelberger said JUMP’s Pioneer Room, a fifth-floor convention room overlooking Downtown, is an ideal venue.
“We’re focused on local storytelling, so having storytellers in front of that glass wall, which looks out on Boise and the Foothills, was the perfect backdrop,” she said.
JUMP rented out the Pioneer Room and a smaller fourth-story space 163 times in 2016, mostly after in-house catering started in April, said Kathy O’Neill, JUMP’s community engagement director. JUMP held back on its rental offerings as it worked out kinks, and now it plans to hire a second rental coordinator to ramp up rentals in 2017.
“We’re turning events away quite often,” she said.
Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau has helped groups book events at JUMP.
“JUMP hasn’t been a huge competitor with other venues, because it hasn’t been 100 percent open or marketed outside of the area,” Westergard said.
JUMP plans to host a Valentine’s Day dinner for $100 per couple and two Treefort events, Hackfort and Yogafort, in March.
Use No. 3: Public spaces
The courtyard space will be open around the clock for anyone to walk through. An amphitheater will seat around 400 people. Three fountains will be designed for playing. A pyramid-shaped climbing structure is already installed. Lawn games such as croquet and badminton will be available.
JUMP’s lobby, which features several exhibits and free board games, is already open to the public.
The pedestrian walkway between the Simplot headquarters and JUMP will complete the Pioneer Pathway, a Capital City Development Corp. project to connect the Boise Greenbelt to Downtown.
Scot Oliver was project manager for the walkway at CCDC before becoming executive director at Idaho Smart Growth, a group that studies development and advocates for bike and pedestrian routes. CCDC’s plans for the pathway ended at 11th Street, Oliver said. Soderberg and Simplot decided on their own to use the Simplot campus to continue the pathway to 9th Street, he said.
The pathway will connect Downtown to the Greenbelt not only as a transportation option, Oliver said, but as an access point for recreation, nature and “a place to get away from the hustle and bustle.”
“This brings all of those amenities right into the middle of Downtown,” he said. “We are expecting JUMP will emphasize that on its end in a much more urban and fanciful way.”
JUMP: 16 years in the making
In November, J.R. Simplot Co. Chairman Scott Simplot and his wife, Maggie Soderberg, told the story of Jack’s Urban Meeting Place creation during an event put on by Story Story Night, a Boise nonprofit that features local storytellers. They spoke in JUMP’s Pioneer Room in front of a sold-out audience of 520. Soderberg is JUMP’s executive director. This is a summary of their remarks.
As stories about J.R. Simplot often do, the events that led to the creation of JUMP started at a card game.
Sixteen years ago, Simplot was playing cards with another Boise industrial heavyweight, Yanke Machine Shop owner Ron Yanke. A collector was selling 250 antique tractors in Billings, Montana, Yanke told Simplot. The event sounded like the pair’s brand of fun.
Of course the Simplot founder wanted to go.
“They were like two young boys going to Las Vegas,” Scott Simplot said. “They auctioned 250 tractors off, and I bet my dad bid on 200 of them. They had a ball. It was three days. He spent $2 million and bought 110 antique tractors.”
J.R.’s idea was to start a farm with a big barn and a movie theater and a hotel somewhere along I-84 where he would put the antiques to work. He wanted to fly in children from all over and show them how farming looked when the antiques were cutting-edge technology.
Other members of his Simplot family were skeptical. “None of us in the family thought he quite had it right or understood what kids would want to do,” Scott said.
J.R. lost interest, so the tractors remained in storage in Billings. Maggie Soderberg resurrected the idea — or at least the notion of doing something with all those tractors — after seeing them herself around 2000.
Later, at a family meeting, someone asked if anybody wanted to champion a tractor-related project. Soderberg volunteered. She did not understand the undertaking ahead.
The next vision was an agricultural science center. The family owned undeveloped property between 13th and 15th streets in Downtown Boise. They hired a Boston architect to design the project. The price tag was steeper than anticipated. The tractors remained in Billings.
Years later, J.R. fell and hit his head while attending one of Boise State University’s Fiesta Bowl appearances, damaging his memory. He died in 2008.
Later, while figuring out what to do with the myriad pieces of his estate, the family was reminded that it still owned those 110 antique tractors.
Meanwhile, J.R. had left another gift. He had invested money from the family foundation in The Mosaic Co., a fertilizer maker. The price of fertilizer shot up during the federal government’s push to convert corn into ethanol to blend into gasoline. The windfall doubled the foundation’s wealth, Scott said.
Selling off the tractors and being done with them was tempting. “I felt like I’d be taking the easy way out not to try,” Scott said. “Luckily, I’ve got this one [Soderberg] to take on the project.”
Soderberg led an effort to explore options. She visited tractor museums, art galleries, parks, amusement parks and community centers. She wanted to incorporate bits and pieces of all of them into a single project that was ever-changing and based on a mission: “creating an environment for inspiring human potential.”
Scott did not want to build a museum of his father’s artifacts. J.R. was a gambler, a bold entrepreneur who swung big at new things to be ahead of the curve — like the time he invested $1 million in a little Boise semiconductor startup, Micron Technology.
“I wanted something that captured the spirit of the fella,” Scott said.
That’s when the name came to him: JUMP.
“But then my family would think it’s about skateboarders that are going to be jumping down sidewalks and on railings, and that this was a frivolous idea,” Scott said. “I’ll tell them JUMP stands for ‘Just Understand More Physics.’”
The family foundation board voted down that pitch 3-1.
A week later, an employee suggested Scott change JUMP to “Jack’s Urban Meeting Place.” Scott was dubious. But the family liked it, and the plan moved ahead.
CLASSES AT JUMP
Here’s a smattering of the programs available at JUMP starting in January. Find the entire course list at jumpboise.org.
Share studio (for food and cooking)
Children’s Culinary Institute/Foods of India: teaches children how to cook Indian food, including naan and curries. One session. $50.
Cooking with Essential Oils: teaches the basics of cooking with essential oils. Includes food samples and recipes to take home. One session. $45.
Inspire studio (art, health and more)
Jump into singing: small-group vocal workshops. One session. Free.
Art Deco Streamlined Style: the history and basics of Art Deco architecture and its influence in other fields. One session. Free.
Make studio (for creating stuff)
Make a Lending Library: teaches how to use wood-shop tools and to build a lending library. Tools and materials provided. One session. $75.
CNC design for Shop Bot: teaches how to use a laser engraver/cutter using Adobe Illustrator. Includes 30 minutes of studio time. One session, $40.
Move studio (dance, exercise, yoga)
Contemporary Movement & Choreography: teaches dance through improvisational exercises and modern-style choreography. Four sessions. $40.
Move, Meditate, Restore: a midday break teaching physical and mental exercises to enhance strength, focus, creativity and passion. Four sessions. $40.
Play studio (video, sound and performance)
Creating a Podcast: the basics of recording and editing and publishing podcasts using JUMP equipment. One session. $50.
Editing in Premier Pro: tvideo editing using professional software. One session. $100.