Boise & Garden City

Stadium and library, alive or dead? Boise officials quiet as urban-renewal bill advances

Boise city officials want to build an $85 million new main library and a $50 million stadium west of Downtown. They want to use urban-renewal money to help pay for them. A bill moving through the Legislature could crimp those plans.

Or could it?

The impact of the bill on Boise was unclear Thursday as city officials declined to discuss details, and the lawmaker who engineered the bill’s latest version said he didn’t know what effect it would have on the two projects.

“The one certainty is uncertainty,” said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, in a telephone interview.

The Idaho Senate on Wednesday passed House Bill 271 to require an election for municipal buildings and stadiums that use urban-renewal money — which comes from property taxes — and whose total funding consists mostly of public money from any state or local source, including urban-renewal funds.

The original bill sailed through the House but stalled in the Senate when Sen. Jim Rice, a Caldwell Republican in his first year as chairman of the Senate’s Local Government and Taxation Committee, refused to give it a hearing, saying it wasn’t narrowly tailored enough. But Rice then worked with other legislators, including the House sponsors, to revise and revive it.

The mayor’s office saw the bill as an attack on Boise’s plans. Rice said the amended version of the bill is not.

“I don’t know if it would affect the stadium project at all,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

The original bill said any projects that use urban-renewal money, no matter how little, would have to be approved by 55 percent of voters. The amended version requires voter approval only if a project exceeds $1 million and is funded by at least 51 percent non-federal public money. That spending would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters, as state law already requires, not 55 percent.

Urban renewal comes from property taxes on any rise in property values within urban renewal districts created by city councils. In Boise, urban renewal districts are administered by the Capital City Development Corp., or CCDC, the city’s urban renewal agency.

The library project was once anticipated to cost more than $100 million, but city officials later said the spending would stay between $80 and $85 million. That money is expected to come from $18 million in philanthropy, $15 million in CCDC funding, $15 million from other city funds and $32 million to $37 million in lease financing.

The stadium is estimated to cost $50 million, $3 million of which would come from the city, according to previous Statesman reporting. Approximately $8 million to $9 million would come from a hotel room tax through the Greater Boise Auditorium District, according to Todd Dvorak of Strategies 360, which does communications work for the stadium developer. Most of the remaining expense would be covered with bonds through CCDC. The bonds would be repaid with increased property taxes created by the surrounding development — urban-renewal money — and lease payments of more than $1 million per year made by Agon Sports, which owns the Boise Hawks and the soccer team that would play at the new stadium.

John Brunelle, executive director of CCDC, told the Statesman that it would take his staff a few days to study the amended bill and understand its ramifications. Meanwhile, he declined to comment on what its effects might be.

State Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise and the minority caucus chair, said she thinks the bill would harm Boise — as well as other cities all over Idaho.

“My concerns are that it would slow projects considerably all over the state,” said Jordan, who served on Boise City Council for 15 years and was president for eight. “It would add a year or two to a lot of projects, which would make costs go up.”

She told the Statesman that she believed the bill could affect the library project, but she wasn’t sure.

Bieter himself was busy all day and unavailable to comment, Journee said. Neither Kevin Booe, director of the Boise Public Library, nor Chris Schoen, managing principal for Greenstone Properties, which would build the new stadium, returned messages.

When the original bill passed the Idaho House on March 11 in a 59-11 vote, Bieter said he hoped the bill would die. “It’s hard to do business in context where you don’t know what will change,” Bieter told the Statesman then.

The revised bill faces a hearing at 9 a.m. Friday in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee in the Capitol.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.