Boise & Garden City

Boiseans love 8th Street. Can the city re-create its feel in a new ‘old’ place?

City leaders hope that enhancements in the Central Addition will inspire people to use the streetscape as public space, in the evening hours as well as during the day.
City leaders hope that enhancements in the Central Addition will inspire people to use the streetscape as public space, in the evening hours as well as during the day. Capital City Development Corp.

Around the turn of the last century, Boise’s Central Addition just north of Julia Davis Park was an up-and-coming neighborhood. After Union Pacific laid railroad tracks on Front Street in 1903, the neighborhood changed, becoming more urban, more commercial and eventually a little run-down.

Now, the Central Addition has taken on yet another identity. It’s the city’s first “sustainable LIV district.” LIV stands for “lasting environments, “innovative enterprises” and “vibrant communities.”

A survey included in the city’s February 2017 Downtown Parks and Public Spaces Master Plan found that 8th Street tops the list of things Boiseans love about the city. (Other urban spaces, the Grove Plaza, BODO and the Basque Block also made the list, along with greener spaces — the Greenbelt and city parks.)

City leaders hope to re-create some of 8th Street’s vibrancy through a mix of public and private investment in the neighborhood bounded by Front Street to the north, Myrtle Street to the south, Capitol Boulevard to the west and Broadway Avenue to the east. The city, the Capital City Development Corp. and the Ada County Highway District have invested approximately $8 million on upgrades in the area, including geothermal and fiber-optic systems, paving, landscaping and more.

One of the project’s early stages made news in 2015, when preservationists partnered with developers to save historic houses there and move them to new sites. Now those same blocks will promote sustainability through pedestrian-friendly design, geothermal heating, street tree plantings and more.

Concordia University School of Law on Front Street is one of the district’s anchors. When the school established itself in 2012 in an old warehouse on Front Street, the neighborhood was mostly undeveloped. The LIV concept was “in its infancy,” said Elena Langan, a professor and the school’s dean.

But the school, along with others in the neighborhood, embraced the LIV district’s sustainability philosophy. Its buildings meet the requirements for LEED Silver certification. And students, staff and faculty who once felt they were on the “outskirts of Downtown” are now looking forward to new businesses, restaurants and coffee shops that may be attracted to the area because of the city’s investment. New apartment buildings in the area, including The Fowler on W. Broad Street, will also make it possible for students and staff to live near the school, eliminating the need for a long commute, Langan said.

What you’ll see on the ground

Vibrant street life needs space. The LIV district’s “festival block” on Broad between 5th and 6th, home to Boise Weekly and Boise Brewing, is designed to be friendlier to walkers and bikers than to drivers. The road is narrower and the wide sidewalks have low curbs to create a relatively flat area that can be closed to cars. There is no parking on the block, except for LIV bike racks. “That’s a branding effort, to ID this as a specific place,” said Karl Woods, project manager at Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency.

Development of the Central Addition will promote Broad Street as a pedestrian and bike corridor, said Woods. “It becomes a nice link east to west,” he said.

The city worked with local parking and accessibility experts to design accessible parking stalls on numbered streets from 3rd to 6th. Parking spaces recess into the sidewalk by 5 feet so that people using a wheelchair don’t have to get out of their car in the traffic lane. Pedestrians, too, will find shortened street crossings at east/west intersections, Woods said. Such intersections encourage drivers to slow down.

Visitors will find permeable pavers on Broad Street, to help catch storm water before it runs south toward the Boise River. The pavers proved effective this spring, Woods said, helping the area avoid flooding experienced in other parts of the city.

The city has also broken with tradition when it comes to planting street trees. Trees are planted in sidewalk wells, but also incrementally in the parking lanes, making four rows of street trees on a block instead of just two. The goal, Woods said, is for the trees to create a kind of urban park. Silva Cells, a crate-like system built under the pavement, will preserve healthy, noncompacted soil and water so the trees can grow as large as possible.

Street corners are also planted with xeric plants. The street lighting is energy-efficient LED lights.

What’s underground

The Central Addition LIV district also has an expanded fiber-optic system that runs from Capitol Boulevard to 2nd Street to encourage development, Woods said. The Boise City Department of Arts & History commissioned local artists to design manhole covers with designs that pay tribute to the neighborhood’s history and its connection to the environment.

The city also expanded its underground geothermal system to make it available for buildings in the district. Concordia Law School hooked up to the geothermal system. The Marriott Hotel is using geothermal heat for its public spaces, including its lobby and restaurant. CSHQA, an architectural firm on Broad Street, is also on the geothermal system.

Take a look for yourself

Don’t often make it over to the Central Addition?

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter will host a neighborhood celebration from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at 521 W. Broad St. Take a sustainability passport tour to learn more about geothermal energy; green infrastructure and mobility. The event will include food trucks, live music, prize giveaways and more.

Conversations are ongoing about other Boise neighborhoods that might be a fit for the LIV concept, said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Bieter’s office. Boise’s West End and its River Street neighborhood might one day be candidates. The Central Addition was particularly well-situated and a good place for public investment, Journee said, because of its proximity to Downtown Boise and to the existing geothermal system.