Among the high-tech video kiosks in the lobby of the Boise Centre is a wall of historical photos, capturing Boise's South Ninth Street in 1895, the Owyhee Hotel in 1925 and the Idaho Capitol in 1935.
But Thursday, Jan. 30 was all about a 21st century Boise and, in particular, what will become the city's new look in and around the Grove Plaza.
"It's really a different Boise, a different downtown that we're thinking about," Mayor Dave Bieter told Boise Weekly, "and I think this is going to make quite a difference."
"This" is the just-unveiled plan from the Gardner Company to include new convention, meeting and dining space as part of its purchase of the U.S. Bank Building and construction of a new cluster of office, retail and meeting buildings which will dramatically change the Grove Plaza's footprint.
"I bet a lot of you thought this was never going to happen. Right?" joked Greater Boise Auditorium District Board Vice Chair Hy Kloc.
Indeed, the GBAD board's previous incarnations were defined by disagreement and inaction, prior to the current board make-up, which has seen an entire turnover by voters since May 2011.
"I had a sense that when these five [GBAD board members] came around the table, they would have an eye toward action," said Bieter. "And now, we're going to see that happen."
GBAD announced Jan. 30 that it had signed a letter of intent with the Gardner Company to either purchase or lease a 15,000-square-foot ballroom space, 7,000-square-foot commercial kitchen, 14,000 square feet of meeting room space and another 7,000 square feet of what it calls "pre-function" space, all in two new buildings—one to be built directly south of the U.S. Bank Building at Main and Capitol, and another just west of the U.S. Bank Building. Part of the facility will include a multi-modal center served by Valley Regional Transit.
The expansion, convention officials said, would allow Boise to compete for 70 percent of the nation's convention market, instead of the current 20 percent it now goes after.
The cost of the expansion proposal with Gardner is estimated at $25.2 million, though the letter of intent allows for the possibility of a lease agreement of the meeting room space, which would reduce the initial cost of the project to $19.1 million.
GBAD currently has about $15 million in its bank account and board officials said they expected to have $21 million in 2016, when construction is expected to be completed and payment is due.
GBAD officials also hinted at an additional $13 million in costs, including the acquisition and construction of a concourse connecting the new facility to the current Boise Centre and a remodel of the current Centre. GBAD officials said those aspects of the expansion could be funded in phases, using the district's annual $4 million in hotel room tax proceeds. The district also owns 5 acres of prime downtown real estate that it could leverage.
"We're very humbled by the opportunity to work on this project," said Gardner Company Chief Operating Officer Tommy Ahlquist, who is only days away from cutting the ribbon on his company's just-completed Eighth and Main Tower.
"We were ready to do something else," he said. "When we purchased the U.S. Bank Building, we saw the tremendous potential of that lot. And that's the fun part for me and my partners. We're committed in every way to make this the greatest city and help attract the next level of conventions."