What’s the trick to revitalizing Downtown Caldwell? Leaders look to Indian Creek Plaza

Planners hope Indian Creek Plaza will bring new life to the heart of Caldwell’s downtown

The Indian Creek Plaza construction continues in the heart of Downtown Caldwell. A performance stage and ice skating rink will be among the main attractions.
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The Indian Creek Plaza construction continues in the heart of Downtown Caldwell. A performance stage and ice skating rink will be among the main attractions.

Visitors to downtown Caldwell’s newly opened Indian Creek Plaza on Saturday, July 14, can play in the dancing waters and splash pad, listen to live music and find something to eat and drink.

‘Plaza Palooza’ will take place from 3 to 9 p.m. The events are free, with food and drinks available for purchase.

“The plaza is the centerpiece of the downtown Caldwell revitalization project and a destination point for the region,” Mayor Garret Nancolas said in a release.

Kelli Jenkins, president of Destination Caldwell, predicts it will become a major attraction.

“The plaza is a catalyst for new business and investments in the downtown district and has already become a cornerstone of our community,” she said.

Idaho Central Credit Union, a donor, received the naming rights for the plaza stage, where concerts and other events will be held.

The story below was originally published May 4. 2018, under the headline, “A plaza with concerts.. A movie theater. New hope for an old Treasure Valley downtown.”

City officials and business leaders hope that next month’s opening of Indian Creek Plaza will lead to a revitalization of downtown Caldwell.

The plaza is under construction at the southwest corner of South Kimball Avenue and Arthur Street, known locally as King’s Corner. King’s Discount Store operated a store there for 61 years before closing in 2009.

The 57,000-square-foot plaza will be a gathering spot for music concerts, a farmers market and up to 200 events a year. It will include a splash pond during the summer and an ice-skating rink in the winter. Organizers are also planning to market the plaza as a starting or ending point for people visiting area wineries on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail.

While the plaza is expected to attract visitors from throughout the Treasure Valley, the main goal is to bring Caldwell residents back to a downtown they’ve long neglected and keep more money in the community. Private investment is helping, too. Gardner Co. is building a movie theater nearby, and downtown landowners are upgrading storefront buildings to help make the neglected old farming center 21st-century cool.

To encourage owners of downtown buildings to make upgrades, a local business improvement district program will pick up 35 percent of the cost.

“We want to stop the leakage gap,” said Keri Smith-Sigman, a Caldwell native who is the economic development specialist for the city. “There’s a lot of income in Caldwell, but we shop and play in other communities. We want people to have the opportunity to stay in their hometown.”

Now, city officials are beginning to show off the work that is being done. A publictour of the plaza will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, May 10.

Taxes and private investment

The $7.3 million plaza is being financed by the city and through urban renewal funds. A tax assessment on downtown property owners will raise about $200,000 annually to pay for staffing and to operate the plaza.

The plaza is modeled after Main Street Square in Rapid City, South Dakota, which opened in 2011 to revitalize the downtown of that city of 74,000. It now attracts 600,000 visitors a year.

Theresa Hardin, executive director of the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce, was part of a group that visited Rapid City and was impressed with Main Street Square.

“We spoke to local people, and they told us how great it was and how more of the local people used it than any of the tourists,” Hardin said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

Across from the plaza, the Indian Creek Musical Art Park opened last week. It consists of interactive percussion instruments and a 16-foot metal sculpture. The plaza should draw people to the musical park and the park to the plaza, Smith-Sigman said.

Prosperity — and then came Karcher

Caldwell, population 53,000, once had a vibrant downtown with retailers such as JC Penney, Sears and the Idaho Department Store. That changed after 1965, when Idaho’s first enclosed mall opened six miles down Nampa-Caldwell Boulevard.

“Everyone suddenly wanted to go to Karcher Mall,” said Denny Smith, whose father, real estate agent N.E. “Coley” Smith, was mayor at the time.

Caldwell resident Mike Durning owned a men’s store downtown on Kimball Avenue back then. He said the mall’s developer asked him to move his store there, but he couldn’t have afforded the higher rent.

“They took away a fair amount of business in Caldwell,” said Durning, who closed his store in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The same thing happened across the country, Smith-Sigman said.

“The mentality of Americans switched to go to the mall,” she said. “Slowly but surely all the businesses left, so then what ended up happening was downtown became cheap rentals. You got thrift stores and tax services and bail bonds and bookkeepers and lawyers.”

Today: restaurants, bars, services

The U.S. Postal Service has had an office downtown for decades. The district includes several restaurants, including the Golden Palace, Indian Creek Steakhouse, Acapulco and Carniceria Mi Tierra Mexican restaurants, J’s Cleaners, Caldwell Floral, Salon Elevation, The Bird Stop brewhouse, Vern’s Tavern and Norman Jewelers.

There are also several vacant storefronts.

Two blocks east of the plaza, Reel Theatres is building an 11-screen theater that’s scheduled to open over the summer. The largest theater will have 200 seats.

These aren’t the first steps in the city’s efforts to resuscitate downtown. In 2007, a portion of Indian Creek that had been covered by concrete for more than 50 years was uncovered, and a creekside pathway was built.

In 2010, Treasure Valley Community College opened a satellite branch of its Ontario, Oregon, campus along the creek two blocks west of the plaza. It serves about 350 students.

More improvements are planned. In the next two years, the city plans to build a bike path between downtown and the College of Idaho.

The vision: fun on the ground floor

Smith-Sigman said the city wants restaurants and retail shops on the ground floor of buildings and service providers moved upstairs to second-floor offices.

“We’re looking at active first floors with uses that attract people to come in and out of the store multiple times and have some kind of fun experience,” she said.

Caleb and Tori McKim are renovating the historic McLeod Building at 724 Arthur St., which opens out on the southeast corner of the plaza, for a new Flying M Coffee Shop. The two-story brick and sandstone building, also known as the Lavering Building, was built in 1907. Rooms on the second floor that were previously used as hotel rooms are being refurbished into apartments.

“When we heard about the plaza and the restoration of Downtown Caldwell, we knew we wanted to be here,” Caleb McKim said.

Every day, he said, people curious about the progress of the plaza and improvements to buildings on the north, south and west sides walk through the neighborhood gazing and asking questions.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said.

Hidden beauty unmasked

Construction crews peeled off a layer of stucco on inside walls ofthe McLeod Building to reveal the original red brick. Outside, bricks previously covered by a steel front were also exposed and restored.

“It blows my mind that anyone would cover that up,” said McKim, who spent 11 years at the Nampa Flying M, including two as manager.

The original floors, a combination of maple, oak and pine, are also being refurbished. A couple of rolling garage doors were added to the front along Arthur Street that will open out onto the plaza when the weather is nice.

McKim has already hired a staff and hopes to be able to open by summer.

Bob and Kelli Jenkins, Caldwell residents who own the McLeod Building, are renovating two other buildings they own that adjoin the plaza.

One, at 106 S. Kimball Ave, houses Destination Caldwell, the nonprofit group developing the plaza. Kelli Jenkins is president of the group’s board. The other building is at 710 Main St.

Tenants sought

The Jenkinses and owners of other buildings on Main Street between Kimball and 7th Avenue are creating new entrances to provide access along the alley between the buildings and the plaza. That will make those buildings much more attractive to people coming to the plaza for events, Bob Jenkins said.

The owners are seeking tenants.

In each of their buildings, Bob Jenkins said they’ve incorporated touches to make them more energy efficient while exposing brick and other historical features that add to their charm.

“They really look good,” he said.

Jeff Hunsicker, owner of a building at 714 Main St., is doing major renovations on a building built about 1907 that once housed McClure’s Bakery and later Home Bakery. In the 1970s it housed a print shop and later the offices of the Humboldt Telephone Co. The two-story brick building once had a freight elevator between the ground floor and the basement.

Hunsicker, who moved to Caldwell four years ago from Boulder, Colorado, said he believes the plaza and the businesses it will attract will help keep people closer to home.

“There’s a lot of people like us,” he said. “What do they do? They go out of town. Let’s keep them here.”