Keep your eye on the southwest corner of Downtown Boise as the River Street neighborhood begins to blossom.
Three housing projects are set to add 23 townhouses, 10 condominiums and eight apartments within a seven-block area along River and South 15th streets. One is under construction. The other two are expected to be built next year.
The living units are the latest effort to bolster one of Boise’s oldest neighborhoods.
In the 1960s and ’70s, city leaders saw an eyesore that harbored prostitution and gambling amid neglected homes. Today the neighborhood is a center of services for homeless people, including the Valley’s two biggest homeless shelters. Its 200 acres house just 171 buildings, empty lots where homeless people sometimes camp, and a high concentration of sex offenders.
The homes of pre-World War II European immigrants and postwar blacks are mostly gone. The neighborhood lacks the high density of Downtown’s heart, it has no historic district, and it is separated from the rest of Downtown by the Interstate 184 Connector.
But the neighborhood also has quiet, tree-lined streets, a walking trail called the Pioneer Trail, and newer condominiums mixed in with aging single-family homes and apartments. It has little retail but has businesses such as Payette Brewing Co. and Idaho Self Storage. Its southern edge has a popular stretch of the Greenbelt lined with symbols of prosperity: the exclusive Arid Club, the Cottonwood Grille and a string of suburban-style office campuses built in the 1980s. Its eastern edge houses Boise’s main library and the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.
River and surrounding streets need more investment, city leaders say. The latest housing projects offer some.
“There has been more reinvestment in the residential area north of River Street in recent months than ever before,” said John Brunelle, executive director of the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban-renewal agency. “But it’s not a huge area. I think there’s going to be a point, probably fairly soon, that streets like Lee and Ash and Grand are at capacity in terms of a robust and vibrant residential neighborhood.”
Already open is the five-story, 28-unit Afton condo building at 8th and River streets. Now under construction are the Verraso Apartments, eight units at the neighborhood’s northern edge (technically beyond it, since they’re just north of the Connector). Developers plan to begin work in January on 10 condos at 15th and River streets and next spring on 34 rentals with a small retail area at Ash and River.
1. Verraso apartments
Work on Verraso, at 1420 W. Front St., began in July. It abuts a Connector off-ramp and is kitty-cornered from the Connector-covered Rhodes Skate Park, renovated last year. The two-story building will have four two-bedroom units, three three-bedroom units and a four-bedroom unit.
Developer Chad Olsen of Envision 360 had hoped to adapt and reuse the old warehouse that dated from the 1920s, but he discovered that it was built on a 5.5-foot bed of fill that would not support two stories. Oil in the soil had to be contained and removed.
“I loved it the way it was, but there just was never a chance to save the building,” Olsen said.
Olsen said he was attracted to the parcel because of its closeness to the skate park, the heart of Downtown and the Greenbelt.
“We thought, ‘What a great place to put something up,’ ” Olsen said.
When the project is completed late this winter, the five apartments on the second floor will be leased out for a year at a time, at rates between $1,600 and $2,200 a month. Olsen said he may offer the bottom three, one of each size, as vacation or other short-term rentals.
“That would let people come here in more of a family atmosphere and enjoy the skating park, the shops and all of the other amenities Downtown has to offer,” Olsen said.
2. River Street Lofts
Energreen Development Co., of McCall, plans 10 three-level condominium units in two buildings on the northwest corner of 15th and River streets to open late in 2018.
The site is a couple of blocks northeast from where a baseball stadium has been proposed to replace a former Kmart, now occupied by St. Luke’s Health System, at the corner of Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive. The buildings will use concrete injected into plastic forms. The resulting walls will have insulating properties 50 percent greater than conventional buildings and 35 percent greater than Energy Star standards, developer Tim Nau said.
“When you are heating or cooling the building, it basically gets absorbed into the walls, and it doesn’t take much energy to maintain the desired temperature,” Nau said. “It also provides a sound barrier between the units.”
The condominiums are priced from $379,000 to $388,000 each.
3. Ash Street Workforce Housing
The Ash Street Workforce Housing project, on the northwest corner of Ash and River streets will have 34 units — 22 three-story, townhome-style apartments and 12 flats — plus a small retail area. It will create a bridge between Pioneer Corner at 11th and Myrtle streets and a historic house.
The project is meant to benefit families earning 80 percent to 140 percent of Ada County’s median income. A family of four with a family income of $51,450 would qualify and pay no more than 35 percent of its income for housing.
This is the next project on tap for developer Dean Papè. Relatively new to Idaho, Papè moved his family and his deChase Miksis company to Boise four years ago. He is a partner in the 5th and Idaho Apartments that are under construction across from the Flying M Coffeehouse on the other side of Downtown.
For Ash Street, Papè is partnering with Mark Edlen of Portland’s Gerding Edlen, a development company where Papè began his career.
The site is adjacent to the Pioneer Pathway, a pedestrian/bicycle path that connects the Greenbelt to Myrtle Street.
The project involves a collaboration with the Boise Department of Arts and History, which wants to turn the Erma Hayman House into a community asset, perhaps a cultural-events center. Workers will restore the exterior, interior and grounds and install some public art.
The sandstone house at 617 Ash St., was built in 1907. It was the only stone house in the River Street neighborhood at the time. A black woman, Erma Madry-Hayman, bought it in the late 1940s after she was turned away from buying a house on The Bench. She died in 2009 at 102, and CCDC bought the house.
“That little stone house is important to our cultural history and our history of diversity,” said Terri Schorzman, director of the Department of Arts and History.
Taxes will pay for some improvements
City officials turned their attention to the neighborhood last year and produced a master plan last summer. It calls for promoting Pioneer Street as a walkable, mixed income-residential district with emphasis on workforce and cluster housing. It suggests moving some shelter housing to other parts of the city.
The urban-renewal agency is fostering development by fronting funds for developers’ improvements to public property. The money will be repaid through higher property-tax collections produced by new development.
Olsen and Nau, for example, will receive up to $150,000 each to pay for sidewalks, street tree plantings with irrigation, historic streetlights, benches and bicycle racks on their 15th Street projects. The Ash Street partners will get up to $318,000 for similar costs.
“That’s how a lot of the improvements have gotten done Downtown, whether it’s a new apartment building, a hotel or a condominium,” said Brunelle, the agency director. “They create a larger property tax base and we take a portion of that [revenue] in a safe, well-lit walkway or streetscape.”
The Ash Street project will be built on several parcels the agency owned. The agency agreed to reimburse Ash Street developer deChase Miksis the properties’ appraised value of $679,000.
“The neighborhood is an outstanding location for residential housing,” Brunelle said. “I think it’s on an upswing for investment, and I think it will continue to gain in popularity.”