A bird’s-eye view of the proposed Downtown Boise stadium site
On opening day 2020, thousands of baseball fans will stream through the entrance of a brand-new stadium four blocks from Aislinn Mangan’s front door — if the stadium is built.
Mangan, who lives near the corner of 14th and River streets in Downtown Boise, said she wouldn’t like it if those fans took up the parking spots in front of her house. She worries about traffic congestion and people throwing trash on the ground. She knows her rent could go up if the stadium is built.
In general, though, Mangan likes the idea of a new stadium. She thinks such an activity center would make life in Boise better. The worst potential impacts, such as fights or vandalism, would be minimal, she said, if Boise keeps being Boise.
“As long as those who uphold the culture of Boise are the majority,” she said. “As long as we’re not polarized or the minority, then yeah, it will absorb a lot of those issues and people will become what’s around them.”
Mangan’s perspective seems typical for her neighborhood. In conversations with the Idaho Statesman, people who live, work or own property in Downtown Boise had a mixture of concerns and good things to say about a proposal to build a 5,000-seat stadium near the corner of Shoreline Drive and Americana Boulevard. The venue would serve minor-league baseball, professional soccer, youth sports and other activities — but not Boise State baseball or soccer programs, the university announced Thursday.
“It’s almost like having Boise reaching a higher level — almost like a class A city — to have this type of venue,” said Marty Jacobs, president of the Downtown Boise Neighborhood Association. “So folks are excited.”
City Hall says most of the feedback it’s hearing on the stadium is favorable. The city fielded 906 comments in the first half of October online, over email and during three open house events; of those, officials say, more than three-quarters were positive. The stadium’s potential to enhance Downtown and draw professional and youth soccer events were two of the most common reasons for support, according to the city.
Whether they’re for or against the stadium, some neighbors are frustrated by the process the proposal has followed so far. Their sentiments echo a growing impression of City Hall.
“I think (Boise Mayor) Dave Bieter and his cronies have decided the way it’s going to go,” said Jany Rae Seda, an artist whose studio is located in a house on 14th Street about five blocks northeast of the stadium’s proposed location. “It’s all done behind closed doors, and decisions were made a long time ago. And I don’t know if we have much of a voice. I feel that more and more with things that are going on in our community.”
TRAFFIC & PARKING
Betsy Stephens and Steven Dexter think a stadium could revitalize the surrounding area, which would be good for them.
Stephens and Dexter own Innovations Hair Salon on 14th Street. They think their building’s value would increase if a stadium were built nearby. Still, they’re skeptical about traffic and parking.
Chris Schoen, the man behind the Boise stadium proposal, built a similar one in downtown Fort Wayne, Ind. And there’s no doubt that project increased traffic congestion and made parking spaces harder to find, said Kara Hackett, an arts and culture blogger and former reporter who covered downtown development and culture for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Downtown is noisier since the stadium opened, she said.
“But at the same time, it does bring a lot of lively feeling to the area,” Hackett said. “I think if I were a business owner, I’d personally be happier than I would be upset, because it’s bringing you a whole new group of clientele who maybe never would’ve thought to come downtown.”
Schoen said offering a mixture of uses in Downtown Boise should reduce peak traffic volumes around the starting time of a game or other event at the stadium. People who live near the stadium could walk to events there, as could some of the people who work in offices nearby. A family might go to a restaurant an hour or two before a game.
Boise City Hall downplays predictions of a parking disaster. About 3,700 parking spots are potentially available to the public within a 10-minute, or half-mile, walk of the proposed stadium site, officials say. That’s on top of the 700-space garage Schoen plans to build next to the stadium.
The city is used to fans trying to park at Ann Morrison and Julia Davis parks during football games at Albertsons Stadium, said Doug Holloway, Boise parks and recreation director. He said his crew would patrol Ann Morrison in particular to make sure that doesn’t happen around the new stadium.
“We don’t see that occurring at all with the new stadium, because it’s such a small venue and there appears to be ample parking north of the river,” Holloway said. “So we don’t think there’s going to be any impact on the park at all.”
NOISE AND BIRDS
Noise and light from the proposed stadium are of special concern for some people.
Glenda Morton, co-owner of Redwood Apartments on 13th Street, said she lives near a high school football field in Meridian. If she’s home during games there, she can hear everything the announcers say.
“I think (a stadium) would be a great asset to the Valley here, but my tenants might not think it’s so great if they can hear every word that’s being said,” Morton said.
Schoen said a canopy surrounding much of the field should reduce the amount of noise and light escaping it. The stadium also would have LED bulbs, whose light doesn’t spread as much as that of traditional stadium fixtures, he said.
Some Boiseans have contacted the Statesman to share worries about fireworks and other noise affecting Kathryn Albertson Park, a bird sanctuary located just west of Ann Morrison Park and across the river from the proposed stadium site.
Evin Oneale, a regional conservation educator for Idaho Fish and Game, said the stadium proposal hasn’t set off too many alarm bells in his organization.
“There’s plenty of noise that goes on Downtown anyway,” Oneale said. “I don’t know that some additional noise would cause much disruption. Wildlife living in an urban environment is fairly adaptable. That’s why they’re able to live where they do. If they didn’t want to be there for whatever reason, they would certainly move on.”
WHY THIS SPOT?
Even people who want a new stadium for the Boise Hawks, the local minor-league baseball team, question its proposed location.
Memorial Stadium in Garden City, where the Hawks play now, is old. But there’s plenty of room there to renovate or rebuild it, they say. As anti-stadium group Concerned Boise Taxpayers points out, that location is closer to the center of the Treasure Valley.
But an urban setting is crucial to the profitability of private development whose property taxes would cover most of the stadium’s cost, Schoen said. Schoen said he looked at several properties around Boise before settling on the Shoreline-Americana parcel, which he’s buying from St. Luke’s Health System. He actually acquired land on the Boise State University campus but couldn’t make a stadium deal work there, he said. Schoen said his company, Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties, has since sold that property.
“There weren’t a number of 11- to 15-acre sites with close adjacency to Downtown, nor with the ability to have this kind of proximity to the river,” he said.
Some observers suggested Greenstone build its stadium farther west, on empty lots at the corner of Whitewater Park Boulevard and Main Street. That land is close to the river and would solve or at least mitigate some of the traffic, parking and other issues while offering easy driving access.
But Schoen said it’s too far from Downtown.
BARGAIN OR BOONDOGGLE?
And then there’s the big question: Should public dollars even be going to a stadium for the Hawks, a private organization?
Gary Michael is a former Albertsons CEO and co-owner of the Idaho Stampede, a Boise-based NBA developmental team that moved to Salt Lake City in 2016. Along with former Stampede managing partner Bill Ilett, he in July formed Concerned Boise Taxpayers, the primary voice of opposition to the stadium so far.
Michael said his own experience leads him to believe the stadium’s estimated cost is too low and revenue projections are too high. The risk is just too great for a project type that often fails, he said Thursday at a meeting of the Greater Boise Auditorium District’s board of directors.
GBAD would contribute $5 million of the stadium’s roughly $40 million construction cost under a preliminary proposal for financing the project. The city of Boise would pay $3 million. Schoen would chip in $1 million in cash and four acres where the stadium would be built. Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency, would borrow money to cover the rest of the cost.
Schoen would build at least $60 million worth of private development around the stadium. Property taxes from those projects would cover about half of CCDC’s debt payments. Besides being a developer, Schoen is managing partner of Agon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Boise Hawks.
“If these were good projects — one in 100 maybe make it — baseball people would own it.” Michael said. “They’re billionaires and they’re millionaires and they don’t want anything to do with running a stadium. They want to get public money.”
The pro-stadium crowd says the risk is overstated. Yes, the city would pay $3 million upfront, they say, but the land Schoen would donate is worth more than that, not to mention his cash contribution. Furthermore, Boise would own the stadium debt-free after 20 years. On top of using the stadium for public benefit, supporters say, the city could bring in more than $1 million per year by leasing it.
“It’s unfortunate that the Idaho Stampede … was unable to achieve financial success and a former owner is now criticizing the proposed sports park,” a statement from Mayor Dave Bieter’s office reads. “But for a variety of significant reasons, that failure is not a harbinger of doom for other sports ventures in Boise.”
Bill Taylor, president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association, told the auditorium district Thursday that he thinks Treasure Valley soccer fans would fill the stadium for professional matches and youth tournament finals. He thinks cost and revenue projections are conservative, partly because the stadium will generate more money than the Stampede made off ancillary sources such as parking and merchandise.
This is part of a series of occasional reports examining the viability of a proposed new Boise sports stadium, its impact on Downtown Boise and how city officials have handled the project.