Boise & Garden City

Boise leaders’ library plan offers new home for Cabin and parking inside a new building

City officials say they now have answers to offer to two questions raised by its plans to build a new, $85 million library where Boise’s main library now stands: where patrons will park, and where The Cabin could go.

1. Parking

Boise officials in June unveiled artist’s renderings of the design proposed by Moshe Safdie, an architect who has designed projects around the world, including the main libraries in Salt Lake City and Vancouver, British Columbia. But they were vague about parking. The lot on the campus of the current library at Capitol Boulevard and River Street is often full, forcing patrons to park on nearby streets.

On Tuesday, officials told the Idaho Statesman that they had been working on a solution but could not disclose it previously. Now they can. The city is proposing to buy three levels of parking in a new residential-and-retail building directly across River Street, on River’s northeast corner with Eighth Street. The building would replace one that houses the Foothills School.

The city would buy 250 to 300 parking spaces that would likely be on the new buildings second, third and fourth levels, said Rob Bousfield, an engineer and facility-program manager of Boise’s Public Works Department. The ground floor would have shops. One or two upper floors would have apartments or condominiums.

“We would operate it as a public garage,” Bousfield said, meaning anyone could use it any time.

Officials are considering making the first hour of parking free, as Boise’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp., does for the Downtown parking garages it owns.

Requiring patrons to park across River Street means the city likely will seek to make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross River at 8th Street, said Kevin Booe, the library director. Improvements might include bulging out curbs to calm traffic and new signal lights.

The current library has 102 surface parking spaces, according to the city. The proposed library would have 40 to 50.

The Foothills School building, a one-story former warehouse owned by Wilcomb LLC, was built in 1946. The same family that owns it also owns Jordan-Wilcomb Construction Inc., which city officials said would build the replacement building. Attempts Tuesday to reach executives of Jordan-Wilcomb and the The Foothills School for comment were not immediately successful.

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This three-dimensional model shows Boise’s proposed new main library. The entryway and plaza in front would be on the north side, facing River Street. Sven Berg

2. The Cabin

The new library design alarmed historic preservationists and leaders of The Cabin when plans were released in late June. The southern end of the proposed building would almost touch the northern wall of The Cabin’s building, which the Civilian Conservation Corps built in 1940 to honor the 50th anniversary of Idaho’s statehood.

The city is considering leaving The Cabin where it is, said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Mayor David Bieter and the City Council. But officials say that would interfere with the proposed library’s embrace of the Boise River and its shoreline, including nearby trees.

“We’re taking a step back now, after the public comment period, and we’re going to take a look at what it might look like if The Cabin stays on the library campus,” Booe said. The city is seeking options from its design team, he said.

The Cabin’s fate was the top concern voiced by Boiseans during open houses on the new library that the city held in July.

One option is to move the proposed library itself slightly, Booe said.

But the option city officials prefer is to move the building across Capitol Boulevard into Julia Davis Park.

They’ve found a site they say could work: an area of land immediately east of the Black History Museum, alongside a path opened two years ago that links the park to 5th Street. It’s northwest of Zoo Boise and behind the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

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The Cabin, and the literary center of the same name that is its tenant, would be moved across Capitol Boulevard into Julia Davis Park, northwest of Zoo Boise, under a plan the city is proposing. Provided by city of Boise

The site would provide access to The Cabin from 5th, and it would offer the other The Cabin — the nonprofit literary organization that rents the city-owned building of the same name — a quieter location than the current one for writing camps, Bousfield said.

Paula Benson, president of Preservation Idaho, said in June that moving the building would cut one of its ties to history. “It’s still a beautiful historic building with a great history, but it’s no longer tied to the place that was chosen for it,” she said.

City officials say they agree that a sense of place matters, but Booe said the area between the river and River Street where the library, The Cabin and the Anne Frank Memorial reside has changed a lot over the past 60 years.

A sense of place matters for the vision of the new library too, officials say: “The mayor and council want a 100-year building and campus,” Journee said.

Kurt Zwolfer, executive director of the literary group, said, “Whether it ruins historic context by being moved, I’m not sure I want to wade into that argument.” He said his main concern is preserving the long-term health of his group.

The Cabin has already lost ground to encroachment from the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights and the Anne Frank Memorial, and staying put during construction could disrupt operations, Zwolfer said. But moving would mean the literary group wouldn’t have The Cabin to house it for six to nine months, and the new site “would be a challenge for the public to find.”

The city has promised to cover costs of any move and to recreate the $500,000 in investments the literary group has made in the building since moving in 20 years ago, he said. Those include an elevator and a basement kitchen and restrooms.

The literary group claims 600 to 700 members and serves an estimated 15,000 people per year.

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A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library. Provided by city of Boise

The plan for the library

The Safdie design, made in collaboration with Boise architectural firm CSHQA, calls for a four-story, contemporary building featuring a glass south side facing the Boise River. Its main entry, with a plaza, would face River Street, not Capitol Boulevard as the current library does.

The building would include a theater near Capitol Boulevard, the headquarters for the city’s Arts & History Department, a circular children’s library facing the river, a roof garden atop the theater, and a gallery.

Its curves and abundant glass evoke Safdie-designed libraries in Salt Lake City and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The city hopes to break ground next year and finish the library by 2021.

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Architects said they worked to integrate Boise's proposed new main library with the Boise River and Greenbelt just south of the building. Provided by city of Boise

The cost

The rough estimate for the new design came in at $103 million. But officials on Tuesday said the project will adhere to the $80 million to $85 million the city has set.

“The time is now to get this done,” Booe said. “$85 million is a doable figure. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s something the city can do.”

Money would come from a combination of fundraising; revenue from the city’s general fund and the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency; and borrowing. The city hopes to raise at least $18 million privately.