Boise & Garden City

Emails show how worried Boise officials tried to kill Legislature’s ‘stadium bill’

City officials say they still don’t know how the “stadium bill” might affect Boise, but that hasn’t stopped members of Mayor David Bieter’s staff from lobbying against it.

Emails obtained by the Idaho Statesman via public records request show the city reached out to several groups, including lawmakers and advocates, in its effort to defeat a bill that requires elections when a city wants to use urban-renewal money on municipal buildings or sports stadiums that cost $1 million or more.

Gov. Brad Little has not said whether he will sign the bill.

The bill, House Bill 217, could require a citizen vote on projects such as a new main library branch or the potential new stadium. Both projects are set to be partially funded by property taxes in urban renewal districts. When the Statesman asked city officials what would happen to those projects if the bill became law, they were unable to give a conclusive answer.

City leaders plan to use urban-renewal district tax revenue to help pay for the planned $85 million replacement of Boise’s main library and for a $50 million privately built but city-owned baseball and soccer stadium along Whitewater Park Boulevard between Main Street and Fairview Avenue. It’s not clear if votes would be required for either project or whether they could proceed with other financing mechanisms.

Library River Street entry plaza PRESS-BRIEFING-LIBCAMP_Page_07.jpg
A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the proposed main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library. Provided by city of Boise

The emails show that city officials worried about the impact on the library and stadium, but they were also concerned about other city projects.

“This bill is also not just about two Boise projects,” Amber Pence, Bieter’s director of intergovernmental affairs, wrote March 7 to the members of the Idaho House who represent Boise. “HB217 will have larger implications for all Idaho cities going forward.”

Pence further wrote that the bill is “not productive” and listed ways the project could hurt cities and Boise in particular.

Wyatt Schroeder, the city’s new director of community partnerships, reached out to Maureen Brewer, continuum of care program manager in the city’s Housing and Community Development office, with the subject line “Organizing to Defeat HB217.”

A group of about two dozen Boise residents gathered March 16 to begin a signature drive to put the proposed new library and stadium on the city’s November ballot. Darin Oswald

Schroeder’s March 12 email, which came the day after the Idaho House approved the original version of the bill, said the city was strongly opposed to the legislation.

“That cripples our efforts to end homelessness and build affordable housing in communities across the state,” Schroeder wrote. “For instance, New Path Community Housing and Valor Pointe, under this bill, would need to come to a public vote and pass before we could house those vulnerable populations. This could pit community members against each other arguing, unconstructively, if an affordable housing project should go through.”

New Path is a newly opened apartment building for 40 chronically homeless people at 2200 W. Fairview Ave. Valor Pointe is a planned 27-unit apartment building for homeless veterans at 4203 W. State Street.

New Path Community Housing officially opened Thursday, Dec. 6 at 2200 W. Fairview Ave in Boise. The apartments were built to provide housing for 40 people experiencing chronic homelessness. Darin Oswald

At the time of Schroeder’s email, the bill required that any city building or sports stadium that receives any urban renewal money, no matter how little, be put to a public vote. The final version requires a citizen vote would if a project exceeds $1 million and is funded by at least 51 percent non-federal public money, including any amount of urban renewal money.

Urban renewal funds come from property taxes inside urban-renewal districts established by the City Council. When property values increase in an urban renewal district, the additional taxes generated go toward urban renewal projects instead of usual recipients like school districts and local governments. The proposed stadium and library, and the New Path apartments, are in urban renewal districts; Valor Pointe is not.

Mike Journee, Bieter’s spokesman, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he was unsure how the bill would affect the housing projects. It is possible to “dream up a lot of things that could be affected,” he said.

Even while Bieter’s staff has been preparing for the ramifications of the bill, the mayor told the Statesman during Tuesday’s City Council meeting that he was still unsure how the bill would affect the city’s projects.

“I’ve been around long enough and in the Legislature myself … until [the legislators] are gone, we really don’t know anything,” Bieter said. “We’re looking at it.”

Bieter has not asked Little to veto the bill, Journee said Wednesday.

House Bill 217 was seen by city officials as a direct attack on the city’s plans. Bieter and the City Council regard urban renewal as a powerful tool for fostering desirable development and the city’s prosperity.

Chamber campaign generates hundreds of emails

As of 9:20 Wednesday morning, the governor’s office had received 661 emails about the bill, primarily in form letters promoted by Boise United for Sports and Entertainment. Boise United has been the loudest nongovernmental group opposing House Bill 217, running a Facebook page with about 850 likes.

The letter calls the bill flawed, saying it would “end up hampering economic growth, development, and the creation of public amenities in cities and towns across Idaho.”

“The Boise sports park project alone will bring over $100 million in private investment — why would we discourage such healthy investment in Idaho?” the letter says. “And why sign a bill that is so obviously and narrowly targeted at a single project in Idaho’s largest city? And finally, why give the naysayers more power than the people who support a project by insisting that 60% of voters must approve (a previous version of the bill was at 55%)?”

Only three of the emails received were not from that form letter campaign.

Boise United is the new branding for the Better Boise Coalition, run by the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. Bill Connors, president and CEO of the chamber, acknowledged that members and “businesses everywhere” would benefit financially from a stadium being built in Boise.

“We’re vehemently opposed to House Bill 217 for a million reasons,” Connors told the Statesman in a phone interview. He said the chamber was sending a letter to Little asking him to veto the bill.

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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.