One of us is a minor league baseball fanatic; the other is a soccer nut. Our passion for sports is outweighed only by our dedication to this community and the desire to enhance our quality of life, strengthen our neighborhoods, and create opportunities for kids and families. In that light, the proposed Boise Sports Park ticks all the boxes.
Soccer is without question one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, with nearly 25 million Americans who play. Locally more than 15,000 girls and boys participate in youth soccer, while adults play on more than 60 teams in the Southwest Idaho Soccer League. Previous professional soccer exhibition games such as the Basque Friendly (22,000 people), Timbers 2 game (4,300-plus sellout at Rocky Mountain High), and a recent sold-out arena soccer game have shown that our valley is hungry for professional soccer. A USL soccer team that’s promised as part of the proposed Boise Sports Park will undoubtedly enjoy a loyal and enthusiastic fan base.
Baseball is the quintessential American pastime, and folks here have long embraced the sport. The Boise Hawks have a storied history, having won five division titles and two Northwest League championships over 30 years. Agon Sports, which took over ownership of the Hawks three years ago, has fine-tuned the team’s business operations and increased attendance by 39 percent since 2014. Demand for minor league baseball in Boise reflects the trend across the country — rising attendance and popularity. And there’s little question that a new downtown facility for the Hawks would attract even more fans.
Of course, while we have a personal interest in watching games in a modern venue downtown (put us on the list for season tickets!), we’re just as interested in what this project means for the broader community.
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Amenities like these help to attract and retain talent: Boise can compete with almost any city for a highly mobile pool of skilled workers if we continue to build the sorts of amenities that enhance livability and provide affordable and family-friendly entertainment.
Furthermore, the sports park and surrounding private development will catalyze the revitalization of the River Street Neighborhood, which has seen very little investment in recent years and is showing signs of decline. The $60 million of private development that would have to be committed in order for the sports park to break ground will bring new restaurants, shops, offices, parking, 300 downtown residential units, and new energy to the neighborhood.
Finally, both of us know that math matters, and thus we’ve closely studied the proposed financing of the sports park. With a minimal upfront investment (just 1.4 percent of the city’s 2018 budget), the city and thus the public will own and enjoy an invaluable asset, which would be open to the public during the day and available for a wide array of special events. The bulk of the costs will be covered by lease payments from the sports teams’ ownership group and the property tax increment from the $60 million in adjacent private development that is an essential component of the sports park.
It’s a rare opportunity when the right project, partners, financing plan and location come together in a way that makes so much sense. The city should seize this opportunity and knock it out of the park (or into the back of the net).
Bill Connors is the president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber. Dr. Bill Taylor, a neuroradiologist and business owner, is the president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association. Together they lead the Better Boise Coalition, a group of community leaders supporting the Boise Sports Park.