Ada County now has a possible roadmap to redevelop the Expo Idaho and Western Idaho Fairgrounds site.
A few months ago, Ada County commissioners voted to use a grant from the national planning organization Urban Land Institute to convene a panel of experts from across the country to study the site, proposed development concepts developed in 2020, and how a redesign of the 260-acre site could be paid for. This week, the panel concluded its work and presented its proposal to the Commissioners.
[Ada County, flush with cash, considering property tax cut]
The group’s proposal includes a blend of the three concepts developed by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee last year with a hall for an Expo Idaho renovated to host the Western Idaho Fair and other events, more natural open spaces, game, a renovated stadium for the Boise Hawks and a downtown area with retail, shopping, dining and residential development.
âOne of the things I’m going to ask you to do is think big,â panel member Nicolia Robinson told Commissioners. âIt’s a generational project. We need you to put on your greeting hats and think about all the things you would like to see here in 40, 50, 60 years.
Diversity of uses = various funding
ULI has drawn up a multi-step plan to develop the project. He estimated that it would take between 15 and 30 years to build completely with an estimated total price of $ 172.3 million in a mix of public and private dollars.
Panelist Nick Duerksen told commissioners that there are a range of funding options they can use to pay for the project, including grants for natural open spaces, donor contributions to name fields and equipment. , partnerships with agricultural organizations and private developers.
âThere are a lot of diverse uses and an opportunity for diversity of partners and great diversity in funding,â Duerksen. âIt’s a positive point. You don’t always have that.
Their recommended vision includes moving Lady Bird Park from the southwest corner of the property to the northern edge along the Green Belt to replace the old on-site horse racing stables and RV park. It would also include several acres of lighted athletic fields for lacrosse, soccer, baseball and other activities.
The current site of the former Les Bois Park, which once hosted horse racing, would include a more natural open space with trails, bird-watchers’ nooks and other wildlife habitats around the existing lake on the property.
At the center of the property, ULI recommends upgrading Expo Idaho and the West Idaho Fair Site with improved buildings and the potential addition of an agricultural center to showcase local food and organize educational events. The fair would be shifted slightly to the east, allowing the current halfway to be transformed into an open space with trails to create connectivity throughout the site and allow for more recreation.
To meet all these uses, ULI also recommended two parking garages with 400 spaces.
One of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind is the future of the Boise Hawks stadium. The ULI panel recommended keeping the stadium in place, either by renovating the existing one or building a completely new stadium further south on the property to bring it closer to retail. Either option and the mixed-use city center would be developed in partnership with a private developer through a competitive bidding process.
“In our research we looked at the costs, and when we talked about a lower cost option, but that does not mean that it is the optimal cost for the public good nor that it is the option that generates the most revenue or activation, “said panel member David Armitage.” … We wanted to focus on the cost of these different things and give the commissioners different options on how to have a stadium on site. “
New government structure required?
ULI recommended changes beyond the site itself.
Currently, improvements to Expo Idaho are funded by a corporate fund, which operates on the limited revenues of the site itself. In order to advance the redevelopment, ULI recommended the creation of a government agency specifically responsible for the site. This can be configured in many ways, like a local authority, an authorization or operation commission or even an urban renewal agency.
Cielo Castro, another panelist, recommended that the board have a representative appointed by the three commissioners, representatives from cities in Ada County, as well as subject matter experts. The Citizens Advisory Committee, which has met throughout 2020 to develop initial proposals, could become the basis of this council.
âThis will require consistency and vision in order to maintain stability on the long-term revitalization and development schedule of this project,â said Castro.
Step by step
If Ada County is to pursue this plan, the first major hurdle will be the relocation of Lady Bird Park. Because it was funded by a grant from the National Park Service, federal approval and collaboration is required to move it, and it will have to keep some of the same specifications and equipment in its new location due to the grant that funded its initial construction.
This process could take one to three years and ULI recommended hiring a project manager to work on this goal and any floodplain development issues that arise on the project due to its location next to the Boise River.
Next, the new playgrounds are expected to be built, followed by improvements to the Expo Idaho site, including more marketing to attract more events to the area. Once that’s done, the county is expected to complete its final master plan for the site and launch a tender to find a developer for the stadium, build the parking lots and the mixed-use town center.
Armitage said one of the county’s priorities should be a targeted messaging to ensure the public understands the victories behind the county’s plan and goal of keeping Expo Idaho in place to honor the region’s agricultural heritage.
âWe’ve heard a lot of concerns about the potential for wasting resources or things of value,â Armitage said. âWith these feelings around the Fair and Expo, we think it would be helpful to guide psychological leadership to focus on what we can give to the community. How far can we open up and extend to reach the most people and reach the most communities? “