West Ada

Meridian OK’s a $13 million community center downtown. It has a long way to go

This summer, Meridian asked developers to submit proposals for a new community center, park and parking garage on a city-owned site located downtown.

Meridian offered up $4 million to pay for development and construction on the parcel, which is bordered by 2nd, 3rd and Idaho streets and Broadway Avenue.

On Tuesday, the Meridian City Council and the Meridian Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency, came together to decide which project to go with. Their job was made easier by the fact that only one developer actually submitted a proposal: the Galena Opportunity Fund, a Boise company that works on projects throughout the Treasure Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

Galena proposed tearing down the current community center building and Centennial Park and building them anew as part of a new combined community center and charter school, which would cost $13 million.

The project would be funded entirely by the city. Of the total cost, $4 million would come from the city directly, and the rest would come from city property taxes set aside over time by the creation of an urban renewal district. The developers would fund the project up-front and later be reimbursed by urban renewal funds.

The city and the Meridian Development Corp. voted to accept Galena’s proposal, but attached several conditions to ensure the project would fall in line with its vision for downtown. The members recognized that more work remains before the Galena Opportunity Fund can start construction.

In a statement sent to the Statesman, Meridian Development Corp. administrator Ashley Squyres said, “Tonight’s approval is the first step in breathing new life into this part of downtown. However, there are still many more actions the city and [Meridian Development Corp.] will need to take in order for Galena’s proposal to become a reality — the largest of which is the de-annexation, creation and approval of a new urban renewal district.”

Galena opportunity fund
A conceptual rendering of the Meridian Community Center as envisioned by the Galena Opportunity fund would include a small playground, a green roof and a few handicap parking stalls located near the entrance. GGLO/neUdesign Architecture

That sentiment was echoed during the meeting by members of the council and urban renewal board.

“A project like this is a journey of a thousand miles, and it has to start with a single step,” said Daniel Basalone, a member of the Meridian Development Corp. “If we never start, we’ll never finish.”

City Council member Treg Bernt said that he appreciated the developer’s creativity.

“I like what it can offer to our community for generations to come,” he said. “I know there are a lot of hurdles we need to overcome for this to take place.”

The Galena Opportunity Fund has said it will require the use of a new urban renewal district to fund the project. The urban renewal district the developer proposed would encompass six acres of land adjacent to the community center where the Galena Opportunity Fund plans to build a project called Meridian Station, which would include apartments, office and retail space.

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 buildings go up, 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.

Aaron Elton, chief financial officer of the Galena Opportunity Fund, said to the council that he expects that Meridian Station would generate $18 to $19 million in tax-increment revenue if the new district is created, part of which would go to pay back the costs of the community center.

Downtown Meridian block to be redeveloped Google Earth image 8-13-19.JPG
Meridian and its urban renewal district asked developers for proposals for a project that would replace Centennial Park, a parking lot and their current community center on this downtown block. Only one developer responded to the request for proposals. Google Earth

City Council’s next steps

Galena’s community center project and Meridian Station project already fall within the existing downtown urban renewal district, which is set to expire in December 2026. Galena argues that the district expires too soon for it to accumulate enough tax-financing to support the community center.

To create a new district for the parcels owned by the Galena Opportunity Fund, the city would need to de-annex, or remove, his parcels from the current downtown urban renewal district. Then, it would need to vote to create a new, separate urban renewal district — a process that would require a study to demonstrate that the area is eligible to be an urban renewal district, as well as multiple rounds of public involvement ahead of any final vote.

The city did not commit to creating an urban renewal district ahead of that process.

Galena Opportunity Fund
The Galena Opportunity fund has proposed to build a 20,000 square-foot community center in downtown Meridian is response to the city’s request for proposals. The project would include an auditorium, 5,800 square-foot community room and a 4,000 square-foot gallery space. GGLO/neUdesign Architecture

Conditions of approval

The City Council and the urban renewal board approved Galena’s project on several conditions. Among the conditions, the city is requiring Galena to:

  • Include office or other revenue-generating or job-creating commercial uses above the community center, which could include the proposed charter school.
  • Include funded, adequate parking.
  • Cover all costs associated with de-annexation and creation of a new urban renewal district
  • Agree that its proposal will remain valid while the city makes a decision whether to de-annex the property from the current urban renewal district and create a new one.
Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.