A top leader in the Idaho House has introduced a bill that could force a public vote on whether to build a Boise sports stadium and possibly the new Downtown library.
Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, introduced the bill Thursday. It would prohibit the use of urban-renewal money for either type of project unless 55 percent of voters approve. The bill received its first reading and was referred to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
“The purpose is to establish more taxpayer input into municipal structures that come off the tax roll,” Moyle and co-sponsors Reps. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa; Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa; and Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, wrote in the bill’s statement of purpose.
The bill would amend legislation passed in 2016 that required a public vote if 51 percent or more of a project’s cost was funded by urban renewal money. Under that law, 60 percent of voters would have to approve the spending.
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Johnson denied that the bill is aimed specifically at Boise, although he’s heard that argument made.
“This issue is probably an extension of the urban renewal law and the changes we made by in 2016,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “The committee tried to send a message back then that if you’re going to use these collective dollars for financing public buildings, you have to go to a vote of the people.”
The bill is a swipe at Boise leaders’ plans to use public money to pay for most of a sports stadium that could cost $40 million, with the hope that private development would pay back the investment over time; and for most of the cost of a new library whose cost was estimated at more than $100 million but which city leaders have pledged to hold to $85 million.
Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, declined to comment on the bill, saying he hadn’t seen it.
He noted, however, that urban renewal money might not be spent on the library. “There have been discussions about urban renewal money being used to partially fund the $85 million library, but no decision has been made,” Journee said.
The stadium is another matter. Under plans proposed in 2017, the city of Boise would contribute $3 million, the Greater Boise Auditorium District $5 million, and Boise’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp., would borrow the rest of the stadium’s roughly $40 million cost. The developer, Greenstone Properties, of Atlanta, would contribute just $1 million.
Greenstone plans to build the stadium for the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team and for soccer in the West End, on the south side of Main Street between Whitewater Park Boulevard and 27th Street. Managing Principal Chris Schoen also runs Agon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Hawks.
The 2017 plans called for Greenstone to build at least $60 million of private development around the stadium, including office, retail and residential space. Property taxes from that development and lease payments from the Hawks ownership group would cover CCDC’s loan payments. The city of Boise would own the stadium after CCDC’s debt is paid off.
A formal plan for the stadium has not been submitted to the city. It’s unclear when that might happen.
David Klinger, a spokesman for Boise Working Together, a group that has proposed two voter initiatives on the library and the stadium, declined comment on the bill itself. But with the legislative session winding down and lawmakers likely to adjourn in March, Klinger questioned whether there is enough time to consider the bill.
He said his group received approval from the city on Tuesday for the language for the petitions. He said he expects volunteers to begin collecting signatures “in a matter of days.”
He said more than 5,000 signatures will need to be gathered by the end of April to get the measures on the ballot. That represents 20 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election.
“It gives voters the opportunity to have a say electorally on both of these projects,” Klinger said in a phone interview.
Boise Mayor David Bieter said during a Tuesday meeting of the Boise City Council that the city is legally unable to conduct its own advisory votes this year on the library or the stadium proposed for the West End.
Boise uses CCDC to foster development in urban-renewal district created by the City Council. For 20 years, the agency skims all property-tax revenue in a district that exceeds the revenue already generated when the district was created. The money can help pay for streetscapes and other physical improvements.