Just before it approved a new urban renewal district, the Boise City Council heard an enthusiastic endorsement from a developer who sees a great business opportunity there.
“We’re super excited about it and looking forward to making stuff happen,” Derick O’Neill told the council at a public hearing Tuesday night.
Until he resigned three months ago, O’Neill led Boise’s Planning and Development Services Department. That’s a powerful post overseeing planning, zoning, design review and historic preservation.
O’Neill didn’t say then why he left. Turns out, he took a job as a partner running a brand-new business called River Shore Development LLC. In an interview after Tuesday’s hearing, O’Neill told the Statesman that River Shore is the group of investors who in July bought eight acres occupied by the former Kmart store on Americana Boulevard at its northeast corner with Shoreline Drive. The store in recent years was used by St. Luke’s Health System for offices.
The July purchase ended plans by a different developer to build a baseball stadium, commercial buildings and housing on the Kmart site. It was the stadium proposal that spurred city officials to consider an urban renewal district in the area in the first place. The district, which is just south and west of Downtown, is the one the council approved.
O’Neill is a pillar of Boise’s establishment. Before joining Mayor David Bieter’s administration in 2012, he spent three years as CEO of the United Way of Treasure Valley. Before that, he was a member of the Boise School Board and a developer who built Bown Crossing and other projects with his father, Peter, as president and managing member of O’Neill Enterprises.
His presentation Tuesday immediately raised two questions: Who else is involved in River Shore Development? And how do they plan to redevelop that property, which sits in the heart of the new district?
O’Neill would answer neither. He told the Statesman that he is still figuring out the business. “We don’t have a plan yet,” he told the council.
State business-registration records shed some light on his River Shore Development partners. One is Robert Rebholtz Jr., the CEO of Boise’s family-owned Agri Beef Co. and one of the chief proponents of Proposition 1, the measure to legalize betting on historical horse racing that Idaho voters rejected last month. Agri Beef’s headquarters is on the Boise River across Shoreline Drive from the old Kmart.
Rebholtz is also a governor of RDT Real Estate LLC, which bought 2.2 acres with an office building at 1471 W. Shoreline Drive, just east of Agri Beef. RDT also includes Rebholtz’s brother Tom.
Those two property purchases were announced simultaneously last July, because they were both parts of a deal that enabled Georgia developer Chris Schoen to take his let’s-build-a-stadium campaign elsewhere. Schoen is now considering a mostly undeveloped site half a mile northwest that is bordered by 27th and Main streets, Whitewater Park Boulevard and Fairview Avenue.
River Shore Development appears to be a successor to the company that was disclosed in July as the Kmart site’s buyer: Ameri Shore LLC. Ameri Shore’s investors were not disclosed either, though public records identify one of them as John D. Munding, a Spokane lawyer.
“Our ownership group has made investments over the years” in the area, O’Neill told the council.
The Shoreline Urban Renewal District will encompass 195 acres from the the Boise River north to River Street, and from Capitol Boulevard west to the Interstate 184 Connector. A spur in the southeast corner leaps the river to encompass the Lusk District, where new apartments have sprung up the past few years, just across Capitol Boulevard from Boise State University.
“If it weren’t called the Shoreline District, it could be called Little Italy, because [its map] looks so much like a map of Italy,” Bieter said at the hearing.
But the neighborhood’s suburban-style development suffers from disconnected bicycle and pedestrian routes, degraded shorelines and perceptions of unsafe areas, according to a report prepared for the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency. More than a fifth of its land is vacant lots or parking lots.
The neighborhood mostly has missed out on Downtown’s boom. Its property values have appreciated 10 percent over five years while Downtown’s have soared more than 50 percent, officials said at the meeting.
Councilman Scot Ludwig, a developer himself, said the district will change that. “It’s going to be highly successful,” he said.
The district will keep all property taxes it collects over 20 years that exceed today’s levels and use the money to entice private development. City officials say that approach in Boise’s first urban renewal district brought Downtown out of its doldrums of 30 years ago.
The council approved the Shoreline District unanimously, though it must vote again (on “third reading”) to make the approval final. That vote is expected on Dec. 18.
The district is one of two the council is considering now. The other, covering a mostly undeveloped piece of far southeast Boise near Micron, is scheduled for an initial council vote next Tuesday, Dec. 11.