Shaun Wardle built up Idaho Athletic Club. Now he wants to do the same for Meridian

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a four-day series profiling the four most prominent candidates for mayor of Meridian in the Nov. 5 election.

When he was growing up, Shaun Wardle lived across the street from then-Meridian Mayor Grant Kingsford.

Kingsford, a teacher at Meridian High School, was elected to the City Council in 1977 and became mayor in 1984, serving until 1996.

Wardle, 44, who is running for Meridian mayor in the Nov. 5 election, recalled that when Kingsford walked into a room, people knew he was the mayor. Wardle said that gave him an idea of what a mayor looked and acted like.

“I think that probably had an effect on my dream to be the mayor of my hometown,” Wardle said in an interview. “I owe a debt of gratitude, not just to say thank you, but to go out and do something and give back to the community in a way that’s meaningful.”

Wardle’s great-grandfather moved to Eagle when there were about 150 people living there. Meridian, which had a population of 2,616 in 1970, saw its population more than triple between 1990 and 2000 to 34,919. The city’s population is now 114,680, making Meridian Idaho’s second-largest city, behind Boise.

Family business: Idaho Athletic Club

Wardle graduated from Meridian High and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Idaho in 1998. He returned to the Treasure Valley to work at his family’s business, Idaho Athletic Club, which had two clubs and 80 employees.

Shaun Wardle and his wife, Nikki Wardle, talk with friends and supporters and a meet-and-greet at Divine Wine in downtown Meridian. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“I became our development officer,” Wardle said. “That meant everything from designing the building, securing equipment, securing financing to hiring people.”

Idaho Athletic Club began as Cheryl’s Body Shaping, the business started by his mother, Cheryl, in 1978.. Wardle’s father, John, a teacher at later vice principal at Meridian Junior High, took an early retirement, cashed out his entire teacher’s pension and put the money into the business.

Shaun Wardle eventually became chief financial officer. The family sold Idaho Athletic Club in 2017 to Curtis Harman, a Chattsworth, California, businessman who owned 31 Crunch Fitness gyms across the country. By then, the business had grown to seven gyms and 350 employees.

Wardle now works as a commercial real estate agent with Lee & Associates in Boise.

“A lot of people that want to work with me are people that know about my past business experience and want to know how they can build their business through real estate,” he said.

Meridian High School sweethearts

Wardle and his wife, Nikki, went to school together at Meridian High. They have two children, Blake, 20, and Taylor, 15.

Wardle served on the Meridian City Council from 2004 to 2006 and is the chairman of the Western Ada Recreation District. He previously served for nearly four years as administrator for the Meridian Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency, and also was a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

He is a partner in D1 Training in Meridian and was a partner in a Meridian Moxie Java shop that closed in August.

When he’s not working, Wardle enjoys the outdoors. “I grew up an Idaho kid hunting and fishing and spending my time in what I call God’s country, in the back country,” he said. “I’m an avid sportsman: I bow-hunt elk, backpack and just love being outside.”

He’s concerned about rising property taxes and says the city should look at ways to cut costs. Last year, Wardle said, the city had $1.3 million in overtime expenses. While some overtime may be necessary, “that seems to me like a pretty high number.”

Wardle said rising traffic requires wider roads and improved intersections, “or we are going to be sitting in traffic until the next election.” Local street improvements are controlled by the Ada County Highway District, not the city , but Wardle credits Meridian leaders with getting improvements to Locust Grove Road done faster, and easing congestion, by contributing $1 million in city funds.

Seeks to reform homeowner’s exemption

Growth is imposing unfair burdens on existing property owners, he said. Under the current system, new residents reap the benefits of infrastructure such as schools, roads and fire stations financed through taxes paid by longterm residents.

Wardle has floated an idea that out-of-state buyers of homes in Meridian should wait three years before they’re granted a homeowner’s property exemption. They would pay higher property taxes, which would benefit the city and other taxing districts.

“That seems a lot fairer,” he said.

Tom Bricker, who has lived in Meridian for more than 20 years, likes that idea.

“For one to three years, that’s not a big price to pay,” said Bricker, who attended a meet-and-greet gathering Wardle held Tuesday at Divine Wine, Cork & Fork, 1031 N .Main St. “The infrastructure needs to grow to support the changes due to growth: the school system, fire department, police department, roads.”

Bricker said he didn’t know any of the candidates before Tuesday. Of Wardle, he said, “I like that it’s fresh blood. I like that he actually speaks about ideas, such as the homeowner exemption plan.”

Alarmed by people running red lights

Wardle said he’s concerned with public safety and said he’s alarmed at the increasing number of people who run red lights. Under Idaho’s “permissive” red light law, drivers can legally go through an intersection as long as a portion of their car was in the intersection when the light turns red.

More and more, Wardle said, he sees cars that haven’t reached the intersection when the light changes and they still go through.

“We need to solve that problem, and we can’t afford to hire a police officer and put them on every corner,” he said. “How do we use technology, how do we use legislation to solve these problems?”

His background, he said, has prepared him to replace DeWeerd.

He says his business-management experience is unique among this year’s crop of mayoral candidates. “I’m the only one with executive experience in a large organization,” he said.

“I really feel like Meridian right now needs someone with understanding of business principles, someone who can come in and look critically at what’s happening in both the processes and the procedures,” he said. “We need someone who understands fiscal policy and fiscal concentration.”

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.