‘This is a real baseball town’: Boise State’s Bob Kustra on creating a program
It was April 2017 when then-Boise State President Bob Kustra announced the big news: The school was dropping wrestling to revive a baseball program, with the 2020 season targeted for the sport’s return.
About a year away from that first season, the Broncos have coaches, uniforms, the first dozen recruits on campus — they held practices starting last September — and land that the university acquired to build a stadium near campus.
What’s still missing is a place to hang their hats and bats for games.
BSU spokesman Greg Hahn confirmed with the Statesman last week that the school is still in the negotiation stage with potential developers for a facility located just south of Albertsons Stadium — on a parcel where houses and other structures still stand — and the university acknowledged the obvious time crunch in a press release Friday:
There is not enough time now to get a stadium built for Boise State’s 2020 season.
“Everyone was hoping we would be playing our first season in a new stadium,” coach Gary Van Tol said in the release. “Unfortunately, that won’t happen, but it’s not going to stop us from building something special that our student-athletes, staff, fans, university and community can be proud of when the gates open.”
But where will those gates be? Memorial Stadium, home of the Boise Hawks? Fort Boise, where the Broncos practiced in the fall? A local high school?
Kustra confirmed with the Statesman last week that although an on-campus stadium was the focus from the moment an announcement was made, there was also talk of playing at Memorial Stadium for the first year if necessary.
“I think the important thing is, sooner or later, they’re playing on their own campus. If it’s a year delay, that’s not a problem,” said Kustra, who noted that since his retirement last June, he has not been part of the inner workings regarding a place to play. “If in the meantime they’re playing at a high school or Memorial, that’s not a major hangup.”
Boise State’s proposed on-campus stadium would be north of Beacon Street between Euclid Avenue and Denver Avenue. There were three bids from developers originally, but BSU has narrowed its focus to two, Hahn said in an email earlier this week. Those are Hellas Construction and the Gardner Company, which has spearheaded several major construction projects in the Boise area the past five years.
“Having something for the first season was a priority for us, but working through the process has taken more time than anticipated,” athletic director Curt Apsey said in the news release the school sent out Friday. “A permanent home is still obviously something we are working toward, but this is about much more than the 2020 season — it’s about building something the right way. We want to make sure that we are playing in something that this program can be proud of many years down the road.”
Gardner’s development proposal includes the acquisition of Boise State land in the Lusk District as part of an exchange, according to what the company sent to the university in October.
David Wali, Gardner’s executive vice president, told the Statesman that he has not had much contact with the university since the initial proposal was sent nearly four months ago. Gardner’s stadium proposal includes 2,000 seats, an additional 500 mobile seats, hitting facilities, locker rooms and offices.
“It’s more of, ‘I’m here depending on where you want to go,’ ” Wali said. “They’re still working on it … they said ... ‘We will get back to you when a decision is made.“
Wali said a stadium would generally take 12-16 months to complete, showing what BSU was up against as far as getting a new place open in time for the 2020 season.
Boise State acquired the final pieces of necessary land, a parking lot and fourplex, on Dec. 21, 2018, using eminent domain. The university already owned much of the surrounding property south of West University Drive and north of Belmont Street between South Denver Avenue and South Grant Avenue, creating a parcel for a potential stadium.
According to the proposals obtained by the Statesman, both Hellas and Gardner would cost Boise State similar amounts; Gardner between $10-12 million and Hellas an estimated $12 million.
Memorial Stadium now seems like a natural fit for the Broncos’ home games in 2020, but details would have to be ironed out. A college baseball regular season runs from February through May; the Boise Hawks’ first home game isn’t until June 17, meaning there wouldn’t be overlap.
Down the road, if Boise State cannot make an on-campus stadium come to fruition, could it get involved again in the multipurpose stadium that has been proposed for the Hawks and a minor league soccer team? Greenstone Properties, based out of Atlanta, has now created a proposal to build a stadium in Boise’s West End, on the south side of Main Street between Whitewater Park Boulevard and 27th Street.
In October 2017, Boise State announced that it would not be a part of the project. Prior to that, however, the Broncos showed interest in the proposal, and there was a plan for the Hawks and BSU to share a state-of-the-art baseball facility.
Hawks assistant general manager Mike Van Hise told the Statesman last week in an email that he did not know of any joint plans regarding BSU.
“I am unaware of any conversations concerning Boise State’s 2020 season and beyond; we’re focused on our 2019 All-Star season,” Van Hise said, referring to the fact that Boise will host the Class A Northwest League All-Star game.
Greenstone Properties declined comment in regards to Boise State’s stadium situation.
Kustra, who was the driving force behind bringing back baseball and is now a member of the Statesman’s Editorial Board, said the important thing is that Boise State will be playing baseball.
“One thing I know for sure is that we have a baseball team,” he said. “Whether it’s on (a new on-campus) field or not.”