A key part of the City of Boise’s grand vision for a public space on South 8th Street near the Greenbelt and the Boise Public Library is for sale. And the city’s urban renewal agency is pushing to buy it.
But the site is expensive. And a key mayoral decision 11 years ago could severely restrict the achievement of the grand vision for the next half-century.
The land at 703 S. 8th St. is only 0.18 acres with a small parking lot and two buildings on it. One building is occupied by an artist in residence, the other by an interior design studio. But sitting on the southwest corner of South 8th Street and West River Street, it’s a prime location surrounded by other city-owned land.
That’s why the land up for sale holds the key to what could one day be a large-scale public project. The plot is also directly west of the Boise Public Library, just across 8th Street.
It is not yet known what the land would be used for, but the possibilities are significant: Perhaps a large extension of the library. Perhaps a cultural attraction. Or anything else that serves the public.
Immediately south of the 703 S. 8th St. property is a larger city-owned lot with an old warehouse that was renovated over a decade ago and is occupied by Biomark LLC, which manufactures electronic tags and monitoring devices for fish and wildlife. .. South of that is the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, the Greenbelt, and the Boise River.
Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency, plans to buy the property for $1.9 million. At the meeting of the board of directors of Capital City Development Corp. As of Monday, commissioners voted to buy the property, pending a valuation to be considered by council next month.
The property is owned by the Lydia Merrill Trust. As soon as it went on sale, Capital City Development executive director John Brunelle said agency staff found it attractive. Project manager Alexandra Monjar said the property is underutilized in a prime location and could help generate vibrancy in the area.
Staff began negotiating with the seller and reached an agreement in principle to buy it for $1.9 million.
“We believe the acquisition is a unique opportunity to bring together the parcels in this block for the city,” Monjar said, “and expand the investment the city has made in our public spaces.”
But that could be a very long-term game, as Biomark’s lease won’t end for a long time. In 2011, the company signed a lease for the land and the building from the city for 45 years. The lease allows for three possible extensions, of five years each, which allow Biomark to extend the lease to an extraordinary 60 years.
Prior to the 2011 lease, the site had been considered as a potential location for a library extension. The city purchased the site, previously a Shaver’s Inc. grocery warehouse, in 2002 for $1.5 million, according to previous reports from the Idaho Statesman. There were plans for a $42 million main library expansion, but these were put on hold until other secondary libraries were built.
A 2011 Statesman article reported that questions were then raised about Biomark’s lease, including developer Mark Rivers, who said the city was missing an opportunity to use “the last developable site along the belt.” of greenery in the city center. It’s by the sea. Shouldn’t it be used for a grand purpose? »
Top aides to then mayor David Bieter, including Brunelle, now director of the urban renewal agency, said it was worth helping a small, innovative business. The company is now owned by Intervet Inc. of Madison, New Jersey, doing business as Merck Animal Health.
Eight years later, Bieter promoted a plan for a new library, which city leaders said would cost no more than $85 million, on the site of the longtime Main Library, a former warehouse converted into a library in the 1970s. Bieter’s plan did not include any city property on the west side of 8th Street. This 60-year lease blocked its use.
Voters did not care about the price of the new library. In November 2019, they approved a proposal that any library upgrade costing more than $25 million would require a citywide vote. This sank the proposal.
Bieter was defeated in that election and the following month lost to Lauren McLean in a runoff. Little has been said of a new library since.
The smallest site currently being considered for purchase is around the corner from the warehouse that has long served as the headquarters of the Foothills School of Arts and Sciences. A 12-story, 160-unit building was proposed on this site in 2020 but has yet to be built.
Monday’s board meeting discussion centered on the $1.9 million price tag and whether it’s safe to spend that much on the 0.18-acre property.
Commissioner Rob Perez hesitated over the price of the small package. He said, “$244 a foot seems higher than packages I’ve seen in the area.”
The agency’s initial offer was $200 per square foot with an escalation clause, Monjar said.
The Capital City Development Corp. had not obtained an appraisal for the property. As part of the agreement, there is a 30-day due diligence period. The agency now expects to receive an assessment within this window.
The plot’s appeal lies in its connection to the adjoining city-owned land. If the purchase goes through, the city would own the land from Capitol Boulevard in the east to 9th Street South in the west and from the Boise River in the south to West River Street in the north.
“Because of the site and future possibilities, it scares me to think that a chain hotel or generic building could go up there with a fast food restaurant on the first floor,” said the president of Capital City Development Corp. , Dana Zuckerman, “and it could wreck any future plans for cultural development on South 8th Street that the city will need or at least want in the future.
The parcel is in the River-Myrtle Old Boise Urban Renewal District, which will end in 2025. Capital City Development Corp. would be to transfer the land to the City of Boise. If the property is instead purchased by a private company, the urban renewal agency and the city would have much less control over what is built there.
“We saw this opportunity as a golden opportunity to complete the picture of public ownership of side-by-side lots for the future, not today but for future generations of Boise,” Brunelle said at the meeting. Monday. “So whether the future plan is a library or whatever on these locations, there will come a day when we will look back and say, ‘It was a smart decision, in our opinion, to take this opportunity to put together and complete the picture. for citizens.”
McLean, a council commissioner, said it was important to discuss the public purpose of the land once the valuation is complete and the council prepares to make a decision on whether to purchase the property.
Zuckerman said she doesn’t think real estate appraisers could find comparable properties to this one to judge its value, due to the site’s unique potential. She would rather buy the property now than look back to the future and wish the agency had done it when she had the chance.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Zuckerman said.
This story was originally published July 12, 2022 04:00.