Boise & Garden City

Lawmakers boost chance of citizen vote on spending for Boise stadium, library

Boise group wants voters to decide on the new library and stadium proposals

A group of about two dozen Boise residents, who want voters to decide on a new library and proposed stadium, gather at a park along Vista Avenue on Saturday, March 16, 2019, to begin a signature drive to add two initiatives to the November ballot.
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A group of about two dozen Boise residents, who want voters to decide on a new library and proposed stadium, gather at a park along Vista Avenue on Saturday, March 16, 2019, to begin a signature drive to add two initiatives to the November ballot.

4-1-2019 update: The House on Monday concurred with the amended Senate bill, giving the measure its final legislative approval and sending it to Gov. Brad Little.

The likelihood that Boiseans would vote if the city wants to use urban-renewal funds — or other city funds, for that matter — to help pay for a new stadium and Downtown library just increased.

The Idaho Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would require a citizen vote before Boise could spend urban-renewal money on the proposed stadium and library.

A public vote would be required if the cost of a municipal building such as a library or a sports stadium — or a major remodel —exceeded $1 million and at least 51 percent of the funding came from urban-renewal money, most of which comes from property taxes, or a combination of urban-renewal money and any other public funding, except federal money.

That’s a change from the original bill that passed the Idaho House. That bill would require a public vote if any urban-renewal money, no matter how little, was spent. It would not have required a vote for spending other, non-urban-renewal funds.

The amended House Bill 217 leaves intact a provision of a 2016 law that requires 60 percent of voters to approve a project. The House-passed bill lowered that to 55 percent.

Money spent on infrastructure such as water, sewer, telecommunications, roads and sidewalks would not count toward the 51 percent threshold.

“This is a good bill,” Sen. Jim Rice, R-Nampa, said on the floor in urging his colleagues to vote for it. He said it closes a loophole that allowed urban-renewal districts to get around a constitutional provision requiring public votes.

But city officials were disappointed. “This is really going to hurt economic development all across the state,” Mike Journee, a spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, told the Idaho Statesman.

The bill passed 20-14 and now returns to the House.

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said it’s unclear how the bill could affect urban-renewal districts across the state. She repeated assertions by critics that the bill simply targets Boise for its proposed new headquarters library and possible sports stadium.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the public should have the opportunity to weigh in on large projects.

Boise is hoping to use urban-renewal money to help finance a new public stadium and for public parking to accompany a new main library.

The stadium, planned west of Downtown along Whitewater Park Boulevard, is estimated to cost about $50 million. Plans call for most of its cost to be paid back in lease payments to the city and increased property-tax collections resulting from new commercial and residential development expected nearby.

The library would be built on the site of the existing main library on Capitol Boulevard. After the projections for the library rose to more than $100 million, city leaders said the spending would stay between $80 million and $85 million. The urban-renewal share of that is estimated at $15 million, and the city’s non-urban-renewal share is also $15 million.

Urban-renewal funds work like this: A city establishes an urban renewal district. Under Idaho law, it can last up to 20 years, during which existing taxing districts, such as schools, cities and counties, continue to collect whatever taxes they collected within the district’s territory when the district was formed, but no more. Any new property-tax revenue — the so-called tax increment — resulting from new development or higher property values goes to the district to be spent on public improvements to foster new development.

The amended bill also did away with an emergency clause that would have made it effective immediately upon signing by Gov. Brad Little. It would now go into effect July 1. That means any funding in place for projects already moving forward before July 1 would not require a public vote.

Meanwhile, David Klinger, spokesman for Boise Working Together, a group looking to place initiative votes on the library and sports stadium on the ballot, said they had volunteers out Wednesday collecting signatures.

The group needs to collect by the end of April at least 4,962 valid signatures from registered Boise voters to get the initiatives on the ballot. That represents 20 percent of the 24,810 voters that cast ballots in the November 2017 municipal election.

“We’re finding that when we talk to people — regardless of what their feelings are on the stadium and the library — almost everyone sees the logic of people getting a better say in the outcome of these projects,” Klinger said.

In his State of the City address on Nov. 1, 2017, Mayor David Bieter urged Boiseans, to "aim high in thought and action." He mentioned projects such as a new stadium and main library, and the need to maintain kindness toward one another.

Chris Schoen, of Atlanta's Greenstone Properties, explains how the lessons and path of mixed-use stadium projects in Fort Wayne, Ind., and North Augusta, S.C., could be templates for a $41 million stadium in Boise.

An Atlanta developer, Chris Schoen of Greenstone Properties, is negotiating to buy this vacant site on Main Street west of Whitewater Boulevard so he can build a stadium there.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.