Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Boise is booming and there’s more to come

Downtown Boise is undergoing dramatic transformations — urban development that will have a positive influence on the entire Treasure Valley now and in the future. We have seen the Eighth & Main building rise from the depths; Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) is nearing completion; Simplot is building a new world headquarters; and construction is progressing at City Center Plaza (future home to Main Street Station, Boise Centre expansion, Clearwater Analytics and the Boise State University computer science department). The momentum also includes new condominiums under construction and new hotel properties projected to join the building boom by the end of the year.

The Greater Boise Auditorium District is excited to be a part of this growth. For years, the GBAD board has worked to promote economic vibrancy and local prosperity, including the quest to find fiscally responsible ways of providing additional space for larger conventions and greater availability for local events. Those efforts are now coming to fruition. The Boise Centre expansion, with its anticipated completion in 2016, includes a new ballroom, additional meeting space and a full-service catering kitchen. The district has been operating Boise Centre at or near capacity for several years; current bookings have forced GBAD to turn away conventions and have prevented it from pursuing larger and more lucrative events.

Larger conventions and events will bring greater economic benefits to our local economy. Out-of-town attendees spend money on local lodging, transportation, dining, retail, attractions and entertainment. Studies by independent consultants have identified an inventory of “convention-quality” or full-service hotel properties near the convention center as being critical in attracting future groups. A recent study by Convention, Sports and Leisure, International indicates that meeting planners prefer reserving hotel room blocks at as few different properties as possible.

In the past two years, lodging properties in the Boise area have experienced record occupancy levels and increased average daily rates supported by that demand. Strong economic conditions and increased demand from corporate and leisure travelers have, at times, made it challenging to secure large blocks of hotel rooms for conventions in Downtown Boise. In addition, when the Owyhee Plaza Hotel closed in 2013 and converted to apartments, banquet, office and retail space, it reduced available hotel room inventory by 100 rooms within walking distance to Boise Centre.

GBAD derives its revenues from a room tax assessed on visitors at lodging properties in its boundaries. The district will pay for the convention center expansion with reserve investment funds derived from the room tax. The district has also recently entered into a memorandum of understanding to pursue new development on “Parcel B,” which it owns, bound by Front and Myrtle, between 11th and 13th streets.

Appraised in January 2015 for $7.95 million, the five-acre site has long been sought after for new construction. In the recent past, a number of developers have approached the district, but only the Gardner Company has come forward with a proposed memorandum of understanding to seriously explore development of the parcel. The board’s approval came after hearing Gardner’s intentions during our monthly public meetings in February and March.

The GBAD board is looking forward to evaluating the forthcoming proposed “big idea” for filling in Parcel B’s currently vacant, underutilized land. With the increase in the number of hotel properties Downtown, we are optimistic about Boise’s future and the potential to draw larger conventions and events to our city. We are proud to help continue the district’s mission of advancing the local economy and encouraging appropriate development that benefits our community.

This is truly a historic time in the City of Trees, one that will shape our collective future and help to generate sustainable economic activity and prosperity for many.

Judy Peavey-Derr is a board member of the Greater Boise Auditorium District.