The Boise City Council took a small step toward backing a stadium in the West End Tuesday when it reaffirmed a decision to acquire The Grove Plaza, a brick-paved acre in the heart of Downtown.
The council agreed to a deal with Capital City Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency and former owner of the property. A provision in the agreement requires Boise, if it sells The Grove, to use the proceeds to design, build or buy a stadium in an urban renewal district.
That would fit developer Chris Schoen’s proposal to build a stadium between Main Street, Whitewater Park Boulevard, Fairview Avenue and 27th Street. Schoen has been in negotiations with Downtown housing developer LocalConstruct to acquire some of that property.
Much of the West End, including the LocalConstruct lot, is inside Boise’s newest urban renewal district, scheduled to expire in 2033. Property taxes from residential or commercial development, some of which Schoen would build, near the stadium would help pay off a CCDC loan for the stadium’s construction.
On Aug. 28, the council approved the acquisition of The Grove, a public gathering space between Capitol Boulevard and Main, 9th and Front streets in Downtown Boise, from CCDC. The transaction appeared routine, tucked into a list of 14 general housekeeping items that the council approved with a single vote.
Boise has expected to acquire The Grove for years. The property is located in CCDC’s oldest urban renewal district, which expired Sept. 30.
A week later, though, Council President Lauren McLean asked to reconsider that decision. Her reason: She’d overlooked the stadium provision in the CCDC agreement, and now that she knew about it, she wanted to discuss it in public. The stadium proposal has sparked opposition from people who say it’s the wrong use for government money.
“On a topic like this, transparency’s so important,” McLean said Tuesday.
She said the stadium provision didn’t show up in the memo city staffers prepared for council members to explain the decisions before them. Jade Riley, Mayor David Bieter’s chief of staff, told her the staff simply forgot to identify the importance of the provision, she said. She believed him.
“I haven’t experienced anything that makes me feel that there was anything underhanded about it,” McLean said. “I can say I wish that it had been flagged for us.”
At the council’s meeting Tuesday, McLean said she doesn’t mind spending money on a stadium. But she wanted a longer list of potential projects to support with the proceeds if the city sells The Grove. Councilwoman Elaine Clegg agreed.
“Because we don’t know what the future will bring,” Clegg said.
But council members Holli Woodings, Scot Ludwig and T.J. Thomson voted against them. Lisa Sanchez, who’s been more critical of the stadium proposal than her fellow council members, was absent Tuesday.
Woodings said she was comfortable with the stadium provision the first time around. She pointed out that nothing in the CCDC agreement requires the city to sell The Grove Plaza.
In addition to using the proceeds on a stadium, the provision would limit Boise’s sale of The Grove to a government entity.
The only buyer that appears to make sense is the Greater Boise Auditorium District, which collects sales tax on hotel room rentals across Boise and Garden City.
The auditorium district operates Boise Centre, a convention venue on The Grove Plaza. It has managed The Grove for years. It has accumulated millions of dollars in cash in recent years, thanks to a booming economy and several new Downtown hotels. State law authorizes the district to “build, operate, maintain, market and manage” a variety of public venues, including stadiums.
But Executive Director Pat Rice questioned whether it would be legal for the district to spend public money on a stadium that would benefit a private developer who also has a stake in a private sports team — the Hawks. Rice said the district’s attorneys haven’t analyzed such a contribution.
In part, that’s because no one has presented an official proposal to the auditorium district, even though its money would be necessary to make the project work.
“These people talk about the district, but they never talk to us,” Rice said. “If somebody has something that they want us to do, then they need to propose it to us. And they need to come to a board meeting. They need to make a formal proposal. And we’re going to vet it.”