Voters rebuke City Hall, overwhelmingly approve library, stadium ballot measures

Boise voters enacted new city ordinances Tuesday with their votes on the proposed new main library and sports stadium.

In a rebuke both to Mayor David Bieter — whom voters forced into a runoff election — and the City Council, Boiseans overwhelmingly approved Propositions 1 and 2, turning aside their concerns that the measures were unconstitutional and infringed on city officials’ authority.

Prop 1 requires a future citywide election on any city library project that costs more than $25 million in public money. Prop 2 requires a future election on any sports park project that cost more than $5 million in public or private money.

The measures were a response to city plans, promoted by Bieter and the council, to build a glamorous new main library to replace the aging one at Capitol Boulevard and River Street; and to encourage a private developer’s plan to build a soccer and baseball stadium in the West End that would eventually become publicly owned.

With 88 of 88 precincts reporting Tuesday night, voters favored future votes — 69.1%, or 35,545 voters, said yes on Prop 1, while 75.2%, or 38,868 voters, favored Prop 2.

Both measures were brought forth by a community group, Boise Working Together, which collected thousands of signatures this spring to take advantage of an Idaho law that allows voters to create city law.

Boise Working Together was upset with the cost of both projects, the potential impacts they would have including the relocation of a historic cabin near the main library, and what the group calls a lack of transparency surrounding the library and stadium.

IMG_stadium Audrey
A stadium could be coming to the site of a former Kmart in Downtown Boise now owned by St. Luke’s Health System. St. Luke’s has agreed to sell 11 acres on the corner of Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive to Greenstone Properties, a development company whose management is linked to the Boise Hawks. Provided by Boise Hawks

“Tonight’s passage of Propositions 1 and 2 should be credit to the people of the city of Boise,” the group said in an emailed statement just after midnight. “It is the people of this community who have reasserted their right of oversight on major civic projects that will remake their city.”

Safdie design requires moving Cabin

The new library has been in the works for a few years. Its fate is now uncertain.

It was to be designed by architect Moshe Safdie, whose other projects include the Salt Lake City library. The plan would require The Cabin, a historic building that houses a literary center just south of the current library, to be moved — one issue that motivated opponents.

Another issue was cost. The library’s cost was estimated last year at $103 million. Bieter promised to limit the bill to $85 million, of which about $18 million would come from philanthropy and the rest from public funds.

In August, after the library and stadium measures had made the ballot, Bieter put the project on hold in part because new cost estimates put the project at $104 million.

Baseball, soccer sports park on Main

The sports park, meanwhile, is the brainchild of Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties’ managing partner, Chris Schoen. It would be the new home of the Boise Hawks baseball team as well as a United Soccer League team, both owned by Agon Sports, where Schoen is managing principal.

The stadium would be built between Main Street and Fairview Avenue and between 27th Street and Whitewater Park Boulevard, west of Downtown and near the Boise River. That’s about four miles away from Memorial Stadium, where the Hawks play now.

Proponents of Prop 2 said, among other things, that the public should not have to assume the stadium project’s financial risk for a private developer’s gain. Opponents said such projects have succeeded, and benefited the community, in other midsize cities like Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.

The stadium’s fate is unclear too. The latest estimates put the project at about $50 million.

Council concern about constitutionality

The City Council had originally expressed concerns over the constitutionality and practicality of both ordinances, so they opted not to adopt the ordinances outright and skip Tuesday’s election on the two propositions, as state law allows.

The council passed an alternative ordinance that would have put the library project to a straight yes-or-no vote, but Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said the city lacked the authority to call such an election. Bieter cited that as another reason he postponed the library project.

The propositions’ passage does not seal the library’s and stadium’s fates, but it does complicate them. Unless the ordinances are overturned, in court or by the City Council, the city will be forced to hold another election on either project before either will be permitted to go forward.

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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.