By: Matt Sizemore
BOISE, IDAHO — Treasure Valley Natives can tell you how much the area has changed in the last 50 years, and when it comes to the Capital City’s downtown?
“You can’t talk about the 1970’s and Downtown Boise or really anywhere without talking about urban renewal and the massive change that urban renewal brought to the city,” said Idaho State Historic Preservation Office Outreach Historian Dan Everhart.
And it all started with the promise of retail.
“Our city fathers began thinking about a downtown mall. We were going to build this massive downtown mall, and to get that downtown mall, we were going to demolish most of the historic core of the city,” said Everhart.
Several blocks of historical buildings were knocked down and removed in the 70’s, all in the name of this proposed million-square-foot, two-story mall.
“The urban renewal agency was never really able to pull it off or attract the sort of developers or tenants to a mall that would make it viable,” said Everhart.
And Boiseans started to notice, questioning the removal of landmark buildings and prioritizing a new approach to preserve the downtown core.
“About that time, the focus shifted from a downtown mall to a suburban mall. And so, the Boise Towne Square was a product of 10 or 15 years of failed mall development,” said Everhart.
“Lots of cities went through this and lots of cities look back and say gosh, what were we doing?” said Capital City Development Corporation Executive Director John Brunelle.
John Brunelle is the Executive Director of the Capital City Development Corporation, which some might see as an evolved version of the Urban Renewal Agency.
“It’s good that we look at it and we study it and don’t repeat it,” continued Brunelle.
CCDC is just one of the by-products of the failed mall plan. It’s an institution that receives lots of public input and isn’t run by federal money.
“So all of the major historic preservation historic entities started in the 1970’s as a direct response to the demolition downtown,” said Everhart.
“A combination of individual citizens and corporate leaders who didn’t like what they were seeing downtown. So they got involved and the result is what you see today, really, is this new model of urban renewal and a nice blend of preserved older buildings and new buildings,” said Brunelle.
It was the late 80’s and 90’s where city leaders and local groups arguably made the biggest impact.
“A 30-year district was created in the core ten blocks of downtown, we called it the Central District. And that’s where we invested public funds and partnered with the private sector to really start creating what you see surrounding the Grove Plaza. That was the heart of it,” said Brunelle.
“Some of the bigger buildings had been built by then, some of the sort of feeling and character, the activity, the street life of downtown had returned,” said Everhart.
Despite the promising outlook and construction of a few iconic buildings…
“The Moore Financial Company created the Idaho First Building, it’s now the US Bank Building. And the Oppenheimer Development Corporation created the Wells Fargo Building, before that, One Capital Center,” said Brunelle.
Things kind of stalled out in the early 2000’s.
“Things weren’t really robust. Things weren’t really happening. Things were quiet,” said Brunelle.
That is until around 2011, when planning started for one of today’s landmarks.
“The Gardner Company and Zions Bank came together with the Mayor’s office, Mayor Beiter at the time, and this agency, to create what’s now the Zions Bank Building, or the building at 8th and Main, and that action really gave hope and it re-lit the fuse for downtown,” said Brunelle.
That was ten years ago. Since then, cranes have become a common sight in the City of Trees, stacking up new buildings as new businesses flock to the Capital City. But you can’t talk about flocking without mentioning the population growth as the Boise Metro Area gained over 200-thousand residents since 2010, leading to city leaders now scrambling to catch up and even pass new zoning codes just a few months ago. Over the past 50 years, Boise has definitely grown in several different ways, but current city leaders are confident the growth will be handled the right way.
“We have the agencies in place and the right people and the right leadership positions in place and enough public outreach to listen, I think that’s why Boise is what it is now and if we continue on that path, I think we’ll be in good shape for years to come,” said Brunelle.