Boise & Garden City

Boise mulls Arts and History headquarters, parking as part of main library overhaul

Boise Library main branch
Boise Library main branch

After years of thinking about whether to remodel or rebuild Boise Library’s main branch, library leaders appear to have settled one variable: The main branch is not moving.

The building that houses the library — a 1940s-era warehouse converted in 1973 — might not be an ideal space, library director Kevin Booe said. But the location — near Downtown, museums and Julia Davis Park and just north of the Boise River — is close to perfect.

Other than that, things are still up in the air. Booe said a discussion about upgrading the main branch is still preliminary. Next month, he said, city consultant Architectural Nexus will conduct a series of workshops aimed, ultimately, at finding the best path forward.

2019 is the earliest that physical work on a new main library could begin, city officials say.

The workshops are invitation-only, Booe said. Invitees will include library trustees, Boise State University representatives, people who own property near the main branch, nonprofits, and government groups that conduct activities with or on behalf of the library and other stakeholders.

The city will host open houses and other public input opportunities later, city officials say.


For more than 15 years, Boise has been trying to upgrade its main branch, which is smaller and has fewer materials than libraries in peer cities such as Salt Lake City and Denver. Last year, moments after becoming the longest-serving mayor in city history, Dave Bieter named a new main library branch as a goal for his fourth four-year term.

City Hall is looking at a rebuild that might cost in the range of $40 million to $50 million.

In 2008, estimates for replacing it ran as high as $119 million — too much for the City Council to swallow.

In 2014, Architectural Nexus presented the city a handful of options that ranged from rearranging or renovating the existing building to tearing it down and starting anew.

Though City Hall is currently eyeing a rebuild, a lot has to happen before that project takes shape.

The March workshops are a starting point, said Jade Riley, Bieter’s chief of staff. Architectural Nexus will use the workshops to update a series of concepts it presented in 2014, as well as the costs associated with each, Riley said.

While the consultant is doing that work, Riley said, Boise staff will work on issues surrounding the project, including how to pay for it.


How much money will private donors contribute? How much does the city need to pay? How would it get the money? Should a parking garage be on the site or nearby for the library and the surrounding area? Does it make sense to house the city’s Arts and History Department in the same building? Should the building include space for cultural events?

These and other questions are among the “moving pieces” still in play, Riley said. The complexity of this project is why the city plans to hire a developer to help avoid pitfalls and find solutions, he said.

Riley hopes to present an updated set of proposals to the council by June. The next phase would include public outreach and a process for picking a winner.

Riley said the council could settle on a preferred option by late this year. After that, detailed design work could start. It likely would last a year.