When Meridian asked for proposals to redevelop a one-acre block downtown, developer Bill Truax knew that anyone who took on the task would face some major hurdles.
Meridian’s economic development staff lured plenty of builders and investors interested in the city’s offer to pay $4 million toward development of a new community center, park and parking garage on the city-owned site bordered by 2nd, 3rd and Idaho streets and Broadway Avenue.
But in the end, only one bit: Truax.
And his plan not only exceeds what the city requested, it depends in part on the city creating a new urban renewal district whose tax revenues would help for the project. City leaders may resist.
The plan submitted by Truax’s Boise-based development firm, the Galena Opportunity Fund, envisions tearing down the current community center building and Centennial Park and building them anew as part of a $13 million project that would include a public plaza and a possible charter school.
Truax said he wouldn’t have offered a proposal had he not already been trying to develop apartments and stores on a property just across Broadway to the south — a six-acre industrial parcel the size of two city blocks that contains the old Frontier Tire dealership building and an old lumber yard.
That is the same parcel that another developer named Bill — Bill Ditz, 68, of Eagle — has spent over a million dollars of his own funds to develop. Truax says he’s working on a deal to buy out Ditz’s interest in the land, and he hopes to close on the property soon.
Truax plans to develop a multimillion-dollar apartment and retail project similar to the $125 million Town Center Tacoma that he developed in Washington.
He plans to build that project, which he is tentatively calling Meridian Station, whether or not the City Council approves his proposed urban renewal district, though he notes that the district’s tax revenues from Meridian Station would help cover the cost of the community center and park project.
The community center site “is really limited in the ability to do all the things that you might want to do,” Truax said in an interview. “It certainly requires creative interplay. ... This requires the ultimate transaction.”
Meridian Station would also include a parking garage, part of which would include 198 city-reserved spaces to serve the community center.
Truax hopes to demolish all the buildings on Ditz’s site this winter and start construction on Meridian Station by spring.
The community center/park project
The community center would include conference rooms, a fitness and yoga room, a gallery a community room and an auditorium on the ground floor of what Truax envisions as a five-story, 97,000-square-foot building. The top four floors would be occupied by a charter school.
Truax has not lined up a charter school tenant, but he included a charter school in Parkway Station, an apartment, retail and school project he has been developing over several years next to Veterans Memorial Parkway in Garden City. Parkway Station includes the Future Public School cofounded by Brad Petersen and Amanda Cox. The charter school’s operator, the Idaho-based nonprofit Bluum, could be a possible partner on the school Truax proposed for Meridian.
The 7,000-square-foot auditorium would be shared with the school. The park would adjoin the building.
If Truax builds both the city-sponsored community center project and Meridian Station, several underused acres of downtown would spring to life, he said.
“We’d be bringing families back to that area,” he said.
But the charter school could be dropped from the project if Meridian officials don’t want it, he said.
The help Truax seeks? A new taxing district
To make his proposal a reality, Truax is asking the city to take some major steps to help assure that he ends up in the black.
Beyond the $4 million Meridian has offered to pay for the community center’s construction, Truax wants a urban renewal district. It would encompass the community center parcel plus the six Meridian Station acres.
When a City Council creates an urban renewal district, property taxes collected by the city itself, the local school district and other taxing entities are frozen within the district for 20 years. As property values rise and new construction is added, the additional taxes that would have gone to those jurisdictions go instead to the urban renewal district. Some or all of that revenue may be used to pay back a developer for improvements on the site, in what’s called tax-increment financing.
While urban renewal agencies typically pay back developers for sewer line extensions or landscaping improvements, Truax is asking that the district reimburse his up-front investment in the parking garage, charter school and community center. The city would own the properties.
Meridian already has a downtown urban renewal district that encompasses both the Meridian Station and community center project sites, but it is set to expire in December 2026. Truax doesn’t think his property values will increase under the current district in time to reimburse the costs of the project.
He expects that over the course of a new district’s 20-year life, the community center and Meridian Station projects would generate $18 to $19 million in tax-increment revenue, part of which would go to pay back the costs of the community center.
“We’re just saying to the city, ‘We’ll execute the work for you,’” Truax said of the community center. “We’ll do all the demolition and construction work to turn the property over to the city.”
Truax has done this before. Nampa’s City Council created a special district encompassing the site of the old Mercy Hospital, where the Galena Opportunity Fund built a $9.5 million senior apartment building that includes low-income rentals.
That urban renewal district will reimburse Truax for $240,000 in improvements he made on sewer lines and landscaping costs, the Statesman previously reported.
Truax acknowledged that his Meridian proposal would require political will that doesn’t yet exist. “I don’t know that we’ll get broad support for a new urban renewal district,” he said.
Still, it’s the only offer Meridian has.
The city and its urban renewal agency, the Meridian Development Corp., had planned to decide together on their preferred development by Tuesday, Oct. 29.
Ashley Ford-Squyres, the city’s urban renewal district administrator, said it is “premature: to comment on Galena’s proposal.
“We are just beginning the review the RFP (request for proposal) and the evaluation of what is and what is not possible,” she wrote in an email to the Statesman.
Truax was surprised that his was the only proposal.
“Financially, there’s a reason that a lot of people didn’t apply,” he said. “It’s really difficult and not a super profitable venture.”
The small size of the parcel makes it difficult to develop, he added.
Truax wants to hear what the board of the Meridian Development Corp. and the City Council have to say. They’ll host a joint meeting on Oct. 22 to evaluate the proposal. Truax hopes he can persuade them of the value of his vision.
“Let’s figure out what the best community assets are and figure out how to maximize the impact of urban renewal,” he said.