Boise & Garden City

With JUMP, new headquarters, new park, Simplot reinvests in Boise’s future

A sneak peek at Esther Simplot Park

Boise's 55-acre Esther Simplot Park opens Wednesday, with 23 acres of ponds, sand beaches, playgrounds, an island, changing rooms, pavillions and a new section of the Greenbelt. Explore its paths, ponds and playgrounds.
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Boise's 55-acre Esther Simplot Park opens Wednesday, with 23 acres of ponds, sand beaches, playgrounds, an island, changing rooms, pavillions and a new section of the Greenbelt. Explore its paths, ponds and playgrounds.

A lot of obstacles jeopardized some of the nearly finished Boise projects that bear the Simplot name.

City planners balked at the first designs they saw for Jack’s Urban Meeting Place — a learning, events and gathering place dedicated to the spirit of Idaho agriculture titan J.R. Simplot. The dispute with the city frustrated members of the J.R. Simplot Foundation, which built JUMP, and pushed back completion of the project.

Today, the JUMP building is done. Crews are wrapping up work on the Simplot World Headquarters, which houses the J.R. Simplot company’s main offices. Landscaping between JUMP and the headquarters has begun and will be complete in the spring, company spokesman Ken Dey said. Workers are removing plastic sheeting from antique tractors that are on display around the JUMP grounds as they finish up odds and ends nearby, Dey said.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter praised the Simplot Foundation for persevering on JUMP.

“I just can’t say enough about how hard they worked to bring it forward after some earlier difficulties with the design,” he said.

It’s funky. It’s interesting. And I think it’s great. It works with the rest of the area really well.

Boise Mayor David Bieter on JUMP

From gravel pit to ‘stunning’ park

Around 2011, the foundation offered to pay to turn a dirt lot north of Quinn’s Pond in the West End into the newest offering on the “Ribbon of Jewels” — a string of parks along the Boise River named for prominent local women. Esther Simplot Park, named for the philanthropist and arts benefactor who was married to J.R. Simplot, would provide water features and amenities that any city in the country would be proud of.

Adversity struck again. Shortly after they began excavating, crews discovered tons of industrial waste, including a car, petroleum, concrete, rebar, tires and a cement-mixing drum, buried at the site. Again, construction was delayed as the foundation and city grappled with this time-consuming and expensive discovery.

The cleanup of 150,000 cubic yards of waste cost $6.5 million, Boise Parks and Recreation director Doug Holloway said. The city paid $4.5 million and the Simplot Foundation paid the rest.

It was a hard pill to swallow, but the city and foundation got through it. The park’s grand opening is scheduled for Wednesday.

“It’s a stunning, stunning park, especially going from gravel pits and packing plants and all the stuff that used to be over there to the gem that we have now, is really something,” Bieter said. “It was, I think, the hardest (park) project we’ve had, and (the Simplots) never really wavered, never hesitated.”

The foundation has never publicly said how much it spent on the park’s development, which included 8 million pounds of large rocks and 23 acres of ponds, wetlands and other waterways that cover more than 40 percent of the park’s 55 acres. Amenities will include trails, docks, bridges, a playground and water access to neighboring Quinn’s Pond. Even the land came into the city’s possession thanks to the Simplots. In 2005, Holloway said, the family donated money to buy most of the site.

The Simplot family paid for the installation of those millions of pounds of large rocks, more than originally planned, because they look nice, Holloway said. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will stock the park’s ponds with fish. Joe Kozfkay, a Fish and Game regional fisheries manager, said the largemouth bass and bluegill will migrate from Quinn’s Pond into the new park.

GRAND OPENING

Concerns over the health of grass and other vegetation delayed the park’s opening, originally scheduled for the first half of this year. For a while, spring 2017 appeared the most likely time for an opening.

Ironically, though, the vegetation is the reason Parks and Recreation is pulling the trigger now, Holloway said. Geese are eating and otherwise damaging much of the grass in the park, he said.

“Rather than wait to see if it continues to mature, we felt like getting it open now and then allowing for dogs off-leash will actually push the geese out and allow for the grass, as it grows dormant, to maybe mature even more,” Holloway said.

The geese have had their way with a lot of the turf. ... They just peck along and they literally eat it.

Boise Parks and Recreation director Doug Holloway, explaining that the fall opening is designed to discourage goose damage

Taken as a whole, the park, JUMP and Simplot headquarters amount to a vote of confidence in Boise, especially Downtown, Bieter said. The construction of Eighth & Main, Idaho’s tallest building, on a site that had stood empty for so long that it became known derisively as the “Boise Hole” may have been more important to the city’s recovery from the Great Recession, he said, but JUMP and the Simplot headquarters aren’t far behind.

“Transformation. That’s the only word I can think of,” Bieter said. “The hole got some momentum, but both JUMP and the headquarters transform the whole city, because of that much vibrancy right in the core when there was dirt for so many years.”

After J.R. Simplot died in 2008, he said, some were concerned that his heirs would sell the company and it would be moved out of town or even the state.

“All their holdings in the valley centralized Downtown — you can’t overstate that,” Bieter said. “And none of that was inevitable and it wasn’t easy.”

Park grand opening Wednesday

Representatives of the Simplot family, Mayor Dave Bieter, City Council President Elaine Clegg and others are scheduled to commemorate the park’s opening Wednesday, when it will formally open to the public.

The event starts at 1 p.m. at the park, 614 N. Whitewater Park Blvd.

Why are all the lights on at Simplot World Headquarters?

People driving by Simplot World Headquarters recently have noticed that the building appears to have all of its lights on, no matter what time of day or night.

That’s because construction crews are working around the clock to finish up the building as J.R. Simplot Co. employees prepare to move in, company spokesman Ken Dey said. Nighttime lighting will be at minimal levels soon, Dey said.

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