The city’s purchase of the James Castle homesite in Northwest Boise and its plan to transform the artist’s home into exhibition and studio space represent a large cultural investment in that neighborhood. But public amenities are cropping up in other parts of Boise as well.
East Boise will get its own branch library at Bown Crossing in 2016. The Vista neighborhood, which a 2004 city study found lacking when it came to parks and open space, recently celebrated the opening of Terry Day Park, a pocket of green on Federal Way. An effort is also underway as part of the city’s Energize our Neighborhoods project to create a prekindergarten program in the Vista neighborhood.
As city leaders work to increase Boise’s often-heralded livability and to provide amenities to neighborhoods across the city, the annual Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant Program offers one lens through which to see how the city has distributed money, which neighborhood associations have gotten the largest percentage of grants, which neighborhood associations are beginning to benefit, and what the city is doing to spread the wealth.
In 2015, the city will award $454,601 through 24 grants for capital or building projects and 15 mini-grants to pay for websites or newsletters. The program represents a relatively small share of the city’s budget — less than a quarter of 1 percent — but it’s a prominent way the city can target specific money to specific areas, paying for visible public benefits such as playground equipment, walking paths, streetlights, traffic box art and other projects that can have a direct, street-level effect on people, neighborhoods and the perception of livability.
BUILDING A STRONG ASSOCIATION
In the past decade, the East End Neighborhood Association in the Warm Springs Avenue area has received the largest percentage of grants, followed by the Southeast Boise, West Valley, Vista and Borah neighborhoods.
Recent projects in the East End include historic streetlights on Warm Springs Avenue, playground equipment at Adams Elementary School and trail improvements in the nearby Foothills. Tiffany Robb became the president of the association in May 2015.
“The board takes the neighborhood reinvestment grants seriously,” said Robb, basing its applications on neighbors’ requests for projects. Future projects for which the neighborhood has recently received grants include historic sidewalk stamps marking neighborhood boundaries and gravel to make trails near Quarry View and Castle Rock all-weather.
The East End’s reputation as a successful neighborhood association is well known, and other neighborhoods have approached the 35-year-old organization seeking advice about how to get more neighbors involved and invested, said Robb. A key element to the East End’s success: a close relationship with City Hall. Robb calls Kathleen Lacey, the city’s comprehensive planner/neighborhood coordinator, her “go-to.”
“If she can’t answer my question, she directs me to someone who can,” said Robb. “When Bob Bennett, the former president of the association, handed the reins to me, I was in a panic. The first thing he did was give me his contacts at City Hall.”
The East End association encourages specialties among neighbors, urging them to form subcommittees for projects for which they’re passionate. The association’s Armory Committee working to preserve the historic National Guard Armory on Reserve Street is just one example. The Armory remains a work-in-progress. The owner is making site improvements and looking for tenants, said Robb.
The association also relies on social media to communicate with neighbors and the larger community. That includes a website, a Facebook page and use of nextdoor.com, a neighborhood-specific networking site, which lets neighbors connect and get quick responses to questions and concerns.
Robb agrees that the East End neighborhood is relatively affluent, and the board does include retirees and business people who know how to mobilize. But she said, “We’re all over the board with our board.” She’s a full-time mom, finishing her final year of college.
“The biggest thing are people on the board who care about the neighborhood,” she said.
‘A REAL PLACE’
The year-old Lusk Street Neighborhood Association west of the Boise State campus shares that care for its home territory, but represents a different kind of neighborhood association and a much newer relationship with the grant program. The association got its first grants in 2014, a mini-grant of $2,000 to develop its website and logo design and a $12,600 grant for bike racks with the neighborhood logo.
“We are such a diverse population,” said Cindy Trail, secretary of the neighborhood association and vice president of the Boise Bicycle Project board, one of the most active businesses in the association.
Unlike other neighborhoods, Lusk includes businesses, nonprofit organizations, city housing and private development within its boundaries. Many participants in the neighborhood association, Trail included, live outside the neighborhood boundaries. Some property owners live outside the state. Major housing developments are underway in the neighborhood, including along the Boise River.
“The association got together because we were concerned about what was happening in this area,” said Trail. “We wanted to be able to have a voice and apply for grants.”
One goal is using the grant program to help “brand” the Lusk neighborhood as a distinct place within the city, taking its diversity, its urban location, its industrial past and its proximity to Boise State into consideration. The association will meet soon to discuss future projects and applications for the next round of grants this fall.
“The goal is to make the Lusk neighborhood into a real place,” said Trail.
LIMITS ON GRANTS
Some neighborhoods are limited in their ability to apply for Neighborhood Reinvestment Grants, said the city’s Lacey. Two associations, Pierce Park in Northwest Boise and Quail Ridge north of Hill Road, for example, can’t apply for grants because their boundaries are the homeowner association boundaries. City money can’t be used within those boundaries.
The Glenwood Rim neighborhood, bounded by Chinden Boulevard and Maple Grove and Goddard roads, has minimal opportunity for grants because of its concentrated size and a lack of parks and schools — prime targets for neighborhood reinvestment projects. The largest share of grants over the past five years has paid for parks and recreation amenities, followed by lighting projects and projects on school grounds.
Sunrise Rim is in a similar situation; it has completed sidewalk improvement projects, but its small size and absence of parks and schools restricts its ability to get grants.
Until its annexation in 2014, the Southwest Ada County Alliance could receive grants only for projects on city property. That organization received $135,000 for restrooms, a picnic shelter and playground equipment for Peppermint Park from 2008 to 2011. The neighborhood association also partnered with the Boise School District in 2007 to get a $24,800 grant for safety and an improved entrance at Maple Grove Elementary.
Annexing land in Northwest Boise in 2014 and creating the Northwest Neighborhood Association opened up opportunities for grants in that area. The association received grants in 2015 for a neighborhood plan and a mini-grant for neighborhood activities and communications. Magnolia Park, now being developed near Shadow Hills Elementary School, will offer more opportunities for the association to apply for grants.
‘FAIR AND DIVERSE’
Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan said the Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant Program was in its infancy when she came on the council in 2003.
“Over the past 12 years it’s been interesting to see how the grants have spread over town,” said Jordan. She’s a former president of the West Valley Neighborhood Association bounded by Fairview Avenue and Maple Grove and Cloverdale Roads, one of the most successful associations when it comes to getting grants.
Jordan noted that in some cases, big projects were accomplished with grants over a period of years, including the historic streetlights in the East End and the medians with neighborhood-centric art by Ward Hooper on Vista. The East End neighborhood began applying for grants beginning in 2006 to install 50 streetlights.
“Over the life of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Grants, I’ve sat on the grant review committee and have found the process to be fair and diverse,” she said.
It’s normal and expected that neighborhood associations go through periods of activity as well as dormancy, she said.
“The only time people get involved with the neighborhood association is if it’s something people feel strongly about. Otherwise, it’s live and let live,” said Dan Loughrey, president of the Hillcrest Neighborhood Association whose home is an older, established neighborhood on Boise’s south-central Bench.
The association hasn’t had cause to be too active, said Loughrey. Past projects funded with neighborhood reinvestment grants include sidewalks along Roosevelt Street over the course of several years and improvements at Phillippi Park. The last time the association was active was in 2014, when the Owyhee Elementary School parents and teachers group approached the neighborhood association and proposed partnering to apply for a grant for a new walking path at the school.
“We got involved, helped them put together the grant and met fairly often with the leader of PTA and the school principal. They got their walking path,” said Loughrey. It’s unclear what projects, if any, the association will pursue in 2015.
“We’re mindful of geography in our investments,” said Jordan. She’s also aware of the great differences between neighborhood associations with full boards of officers, organized volunteer efforts and committees, and other associations that have a couple of interested people trying to vitalize their organizations. That was one of the reasons the city instituted mini-grants, to help associations get started with websites, newsletters and other communications, she said.
“To have those small grants available to help has been great for new associations or associations coming back to life after not a lot of activity,” said Jordan.
The council also takes geography and amenities into account when it budgets in other programs such as parks, she said. The council recently added Sterling Park, an undeveloped park at Mitchell and Irving streets, to its capital improvement project list for 2016.
“They’ve been waiting a long time to be greened up,” she said.
The park is not within the boundaries of a registered neighborhood association, and only registered associations are eligible to apply for neighborhood grants.
“Development of the park might spur the development of a new neighborhood association,” said Jordan. “Or neighbors near the park could approach existing associations nearby and talk to them about expanding boundaries to include Sterling Park.
“Neighborhood associations tend to form around something positive, or something negative. This would be a positive.”
The city offers yearly workshops to spread information about the grant opportunities to all the city’s neighborhoods. Staffers hold the workshops in branch libraries to reach the maximum number of neighborhoods and to make sure computers are available for association members to start applying for grants during the workshops with help from staffers.