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What it took to swap Boise’s Spaulding Ranch, West End site

An old barn on the 20-acre Spaulding Ranch off of Cole Road.
An old barn on the 20-acre Spaulding Ranch off of Cole Road. jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

LocalConstruct’s task now is to make its project in Boise’s West End a profitable venture and, perhaps, a catalyst for the area’s long-awaited renaissance, said Mike Brown, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based development company.

The city of Boise’s hopes for LocalConstruct’s project are as clear as the requirements it built into an agreement to trade a piece of city-owned land southeast of the Whitewater Park Boulevard-Main Street intersection for Spaulding Ranch, a 20-acre historic farm near the north end of Cole Road. The requirements, approved last week, are unusual, but they largely conform to LocalConstruct’s vision for a mixture of residential and retail space on the West End property.

West End: The common name for the area west of Americana Boulevard and 16th Street, south of Idaho Street, north of the Connector and east of Quinn’s Pond.

They include extending 29th Street, which today stops at Main Street, south through the property to Fairview Avenue. The city will own the ground under the street, even though LocalConstruct has to pay to build it, said Jay Story, a consultant working as West End Project Coordinator for Boise and its urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corporation. The reason behind this agreement, which will reduce the amount of land LocalConstruct owns from 6.5 acres to 5.7 acres, is that Boise’s leaders want to make sure they can build the road if LocalConstruct fails to, Story said.

The city is also requiring LocalConstruct to build a path of some sort that runs east-west through the property. This could be a road for cars, a large sidewalk, a bike path or something else.

“What we want to do is make an intersection within that property whereby we can bring that street to life a little bit,” Story said.

TIME AFTER TIME

A series of deadlines is another important stipulation in the Boise-LocalConstruct trade agreement. The deadlines cover most of the project’s major phases, including presentation of a conceptual plan, building the 29th Street extension and completing the buildings. If LocalConstruct doesn’t meet them, Story said, it has the option to buy back the property.

“The last thing the city wants to do is to have them just land-bank this,” he said.

Council members will have another tool to make sure LocalConstruct’s project meets what they have in mind. The council will have to approve the company’s conceptual plan. Brown said he hopes to present that plan within a year. That’s before the next city election, so the members of the council probably won’t change from the time of the agreement to the review of the conceptual plan.

LocalConstruct also must build at least 10,000 square feet of commercial space and at least 50 housing units. Ten of the homes must be for low-income tenants, meaning they’re affordable to people who make no more than 80 percent of the local area’s median income. In 2014, the county’s median income was $55,805.

If LocalConstruct’s final project looks anything like its early concepts, it should meet those requirements easily. The company proposed building 150-200 apartments and a grocery store.

“There’ll be changes in design and whatnot,” Brown said. “But you know, unless the world changes very significantly economically, I don’t think we’ll end up building something grossly different than what we were thinking we were going to build.”

In these kinds of situations, somebody has to jump first, and, you know, maybe it’ll be us. ... This area is going to work. It’s just a question of time.

LocalConstruct’s Mike Brown on the potential of Boise’s West End

COMPLICATIONS

Brown praised the city for structuring the trade agreement in a way that encourages his company to build something that sparks further West End development while giving his company enough flexibility to make sure the project is financially viable.

Reaching the trade agreement was a hard, complicated process.

The city-owned land in the West End is worth more than Spaulding Ranch. Cities in Idaho can trade property without an auction, but only if the properties are of equal value.

And so, in order to avoid the auction process, the city and LocalConstruct negotiated an agreement that depressed the value of the West End property and increased the value of Spaulding Ranch.

All the requirements for LocalConstruct’s West End project solved the first problem. A requirement that LocalConstruct help preserve some of the Spaulding Ranch buildings took care of the second.

Another complication was the fact that LocalConstruct doesn’t own Spaulding Ranch. That property is owned by Union Square, LLC, a Meridian-based company managed by John Laude.

LocalConstruct has an agreement to buy Spaulding Ranch that hinged on successful negotiation of a trade agreement with the city of Boise.

It wasn’t for the faint of heart, I can tell you.

Jay Story, on the complexity of the negotiations between the city of Boise and LocalConstruct

SPAULDING’S FUTURE

The city-LocalConstruct trade is scheduled for completion on April 1.

That date will bring a great measure of relief to neighbors as well as local history enthusiasts. For years, developers have bounced around ideas for turning it into a housing development. Those proposals never bore fruit, but they racked the nerves of people who wanted to see the ranch preserved.

Now those people don’t have to worry. Boise’s Parks and Recreation Department will work with the public and historic preservationists, as well as urban farming experts, on a plan for how to use Spaulding Ranch, Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said.

That use likely will include some form of farming that teaches people, especially children, about life in the old days and how agriculture practices have changed in the past century.

“It’s a great opportunity to have an educational component, a historical component and then an open space component all wrapped into one with the potential of having an actual urban farm within the city,” Holloway said.

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