Doing right by downtown Meridian

Businesses along Idaho Avenue in Downtown Meridian are going through a makeover that some have compared to the transformation of Downtown Boise’s 8th Street.
Businesses along Idaho Avenue in Downtown Meridian are going through a makeover that some have compared to the transformation of Downtown Boise’s 8th Street. doswald@idahostatesman.com

The fast-growing city of Meridian and its business community are wise to go beyond just talking about developing a downtown core by actually doing something about it — but not before they poll the community about the proper steps to take along the way.

In an area often billed as “the geographical population center of the Treasure Valley,” it seems like the right time to move on a more well-defined downtown — Meridian-style.

We already have a Boise and a Nampa, each endowed with its own distinctions. We are curious and supportive about how Meridian would develop its own downtown while staying true to its small-town roots and its “Built for Business/Designed for Living” style.

Working off an economic development audit that identified top needs, stakeholders are looking at a 10- to 12-block area north and east of City Hall where a smattering of businesses, including restaurants, cluster. Now imagine a hotel and even a performing arts venue, and before you know it you have the raw materials for a burgeoning entertainment district.

The city is on the right track imagining the benefits of creating a Meridian auditorium district, along the lines of the Greater Boise Auditorium District. (Would that give us MAD as well as GBAD?) So it’s wise for the city and its urban renewal agency to poll residents about how they feel.

If there’s a green light and the area can attract a hotel, the auditorium district could raise money via a bed tax and, in time, build that performing arts venue and other downtown amenities. If you build it, they will come — and with luck keep coming.

Meridian Mayor Tammy De Weerd told the Statesman’s Sven Berg this week that citizens have expressed interest in having a more happening downtown, but “you need to look at what tools are available in helping build that vibrant downtown.”

The city is blessed with a central location with easy access to an interstate that can deliver hordes of new clientele from all directions. It has a number of natural and lifestyle charms — how else do you get to be the No. 9 fastest-growing city in the country? With a population that is about to pass 90,000, Meridian is positioned to grow even more over the next couple of decades.

Flush with places to live and an abundant selection of retail and entertainment attractions such as The Village at Meridian, the city has a lot of things that other communities and the developers who serve them covet: the promise of continued growth — granted, this can get unwieldy at times — and a desirable quality of life.

In her State of the City address this month, De Weerd praised the audit that “brought a defined focus to our downtown.” The city already has a business incubator. Existing business owners are chipping in with ideas about high-density housing and about hosting annual events to attract more people.

Meridian is on to something. As successful as its retail sector is, creating a downtown vibe could be something defining, something that reflects the city’s history, style and future.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.