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No bell tolls for Boise’s WaterCooler

A desk outside The WaterCooler building as demolition began.
A desk outside The WaterCooler building as demolition began. dstaats@idahostatesman.com

For a while, it was a cool thing. When the city of Boise wanted to do something about the vacant Boise Heating & Air Conditioning building at 1401 W. Idaho St., developer Mark Rivers had an idea: Make it a home for startup businesses. Rivers commissioned Boise architect Stan Cole to design an “adaptive reuse.”

The result was The WaterCooler. Opened in 2008, it was a place for entrepreneurs to share the challenges of establishing companies with others on similar quests, where coffee and conversation flowed, where speakers talked and performers performed. With 15,000 square feet, brick interior walls and a stage-like platform, The WaterCooler incubated Booklamp, Inovus Solar and other infant companies.

After a few years, though, Inovus and others either outgrew the space and moved out or gave up trying, and not enough new entrepreneurs moved in. By 2013, no one bothered to update the Facebook page anymore. By 2015, The Trailhead became the exciting thing, a new Downtown place for entrepreneurs to “cowork” and find coffee, conversation and help.

Boise’s redevelopment agency, the Capital City Development Corp., decided something had to be done. It chose Local Construct of Los Angeles to tear down The WaterCooler and replace it with 37 apartments.

A few days ago, I drove down Idaho Street and saw The WaterCooler fenced off. Demolition had begun.

Cole, the architect, is sad to see his firm’s work go. But that’s progress, he told me: “We’re getting more housing Downtown. That’s certainly a plus.”

While The WaterCooler is dead, its name will live on. Local Construct has named its project the WaterCooler Apartments. That is a tribute.

Still, someone should have held a funeral or something.

David Staats: 208-377-6417, dstaats@idahostatesman.com, @DavidStaats. This column appears in the June 15-July 19, 2016 edition of the Statesman’s Business Insider magazine, which features a special section on commercial construction. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).

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