Boise & Garden City

These Boise Bench streets have aging, rundown buildings. Here’s why that may change

Overland Road. Vista Avenue. Orchard and Latah streets. These streets are among the most important commercial strips on the Boise Bench. But the boom in Boise’s economy has largely passed them by.

Two of every five buildings in a proposed redevelopment area encompassing large segments of these streets are in deteriorated condition, according to a new report by a consultant for Boise’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp., or CCDC. City officials want to do for the streets what they say urban renewal did for Downtown: Save them.

The CCDC board on Monday took a step in that direction by approving a report declaring the streets legally eligible for urban renewal because of their partially rundown condition. If the City Council ultimately establishes an urban renewal district, the desired result would be new business buildings, upgraded sidewalks, new street trees and other improvements.

A district could mean the demolition of the 60-year-old fuel tank farm between Orchard Street and Curtis Road south of Emerald Street, and its replacement with a new commercial and residential neighborhood.

The Bench has long been the North and East Ends’ younger, humbler and less-prosperous neighbor, where housing and commercial rents are cheaper. Much of the Bench developed inexpensively before and after World War II, when construction and street standards were lower than they are now. With profits hard to come by for reinvestment, landlords have allowed some aging buildings to decay.

“I find it interesting watching that area for the past five to eight years, [when] housing prices have gone up considerably but there have been no discernible improvements to the commercial areas,” said Dana Zuckerman, chairwoman of the CCDC board, at Monday’s meeting. “It looks like there’s a great need for us to step in and help out.”

Bench urban renewal area map from CCDC 4-8-19 cropped vertical.jpg
Boise may soon establish an urban renewal district along four Bench commercial streets — Orchard Street, Overland Road, Latah Street and Vista Avenue — to foster new commercial development. Two in five properties along these roads are in “deteriorated” condition, a consultant’s study says.

Here’s how the city plans to help:

Idaho law lets city councils create urban renewal districts that last up to 20 years. During those years, 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 — known as the “tax increment” — resulting from new development or higher property values goes to the district to be spent on public improvements to foster development.

“There’s a lot of things going on up there [on the Bench], but they need a catalyst,” Mayor David Bieter said at the meeting.

Deteriorated site in Overland Road area of proposed Bench urban renewal district from CCDC 4-8-19.jpg
A deteriorated parking lot along West Overland Road, part of a proposed Bench urban renewal district.

Zuckerman said the Bench “has great, charming neighborhood schools that should be walkable, and a lot of them aren’t.” For example, many parents of students at Borah High School cannot help their children get to school by car, but without a car, “it’s hard to get there without risking your life,” she said.

John Brunelle, CCDC’s executive director, said the agency purposely included schools within the proposed district’s boundaries so that CCDC can pay for improvements that would benefit them. Hawthorne, Whitney, Jefferson, and Monroe Elementary schools fall within the proposed district.

If the City Council accepts the report, the CCDC staff will begin work to create the district.

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David Staats is business editor of the Idaho Statesman, which he joined in 2004. He has assigned, edited and reported business, politics, government and other Idaho stories since 2006.Get the top Idaho business stories of the week in a free email every Monday morning. Go here, then press the “Select” button under Idaho Business.