Greater Boise Auditorium District 

Future of economic engine hangs in the balance

Tuesday, May 17, will mark the first Greater Boise Auditorium District board election in eight years--the previous three elections have been canceled because no one challenged incumbents. This year's runoff also boasts the most candidates on the ballot in 18 years. Yet the traditional voter turnout in a GBAD election has been dismal, averaging 2,104 in five elections since 1991. One runoff, in 1995, had as few as 211 total votes. Only 591 total votes were counted in 1991. The Ada County Board of Elections reports that there are 122,102 registered voters in the GBAD district, which stretches as far east as Harris Ranch and as far west as Eagle Road.

Consider the stakes

• Millions of dollars flow into GBAD each year. The district is unique in that it is among the only Idaho entities exercising taxing authority (a 5 percent hotel room levy). GBAD is currently sitting on more than $10 million in reserve revenue.

• GBAD owns and operates the Boise Centre and a five-acre vacant block bordered by Front, Myrtle, 11th and 13th streets. An ongoing debate pits those who think the $10 million should be used to expand the Boise Centre vs. those who think the money should be spent as part of building a larger facility between 11th and 13th streets.

• Boise's convention and meeting industry has been a major economic engine for the region and practically recession-proof. In a recent study by Boise State, 28 conventions booked into the Boise Centre by the Boise Convention and Visitor's Bureau over a 12-month period pumped approximately $31 million into the Treasure Valley economy.

• GBAD has, of late, been deeply divided in 3-2 votes, with board members Stephanie Astorquia, Mike Wilson and Stephenson Youngerman facing off with Mike Fitzgerald and Gail May. The division climaxed with last summer's decision to cut off approximately $1.3 million to BCVB, which had, for nearly 30 years, promoted Boise as a destination for visitors of events.

• GBAD is duplicating the efforts of BCVB. Since cutting off the bureau's funding, GBAD hired away five bureau employees to help attract conventions and meetings to the Boise Centre. But at the April 28 Springtime Expo held in Washington, D.C., 1,000 of the nation's top convention planners might have done a double-take if they walked by the BCVB booth promoting Boise, only to pass another booth, one aisle over, with GBAD personnel also promoting Boise.

Consider the candidates

Wilson and Yougerman's terms on the GBAD board are about to expire. Wilson is retiring and Youngerman is running for re-election. Therefore the board will change by at least one member, possibly two.

Former BCVB board member Steve Schmader and Michael Sullivan--a retired meeting and event planner--have told anyone who will listen that they would return funding to BCVB within days of being elected. Schmader and Sullivan have secured personal endorsements from bureau volunteers and a group calling itself Save the Travel and Tourism Industry-Boise.

Former BCVB board member David Wali and Hy Kloc--former development director for Boise State Public Radio--have also indicated, though not as firmly, that they favor funding the bureau. The pair has secured an endorsement from Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.

That leaves candidates Judy Peavey-Derr--a former Ada County commissioner--and Youngerman, an 18-year veteran of the GBAD board. The two have positioned election signs alongside one another throughout the Boise area and share radio ads promoting their campaigns. Neither is anxious to fund the bureau in its current form.

Consider the dysfunction

When the GBAD board voted 3-2 on July 22, 2010, Astorquia, Wilson and Youngerman pointed to an audit that, while not alleging fraud, theft or mismanagement, said BCVB needed more oversight of expenses with company credit cards. BCVB Board Chairman George Manning said the audit was "sensationalized" by the three GBAD board members.

"The audit revealed potential issues, not real ones," said Manning. "They didn't find anything wrong, but once the die was cast, everybody continued to go back to that issue. For anyone else to air our laundry publicly is inappropriate."

Manning said the audit was never the real reason for the 3-2 vote to defund BCVB.

"It was personal," said Manning. "Those matters became public through, let's just say, less-than-friendly sources."

"It's personal," echoed BCVB Executive Director Bobbie Patterson. "You may be against the concept of an auditorium district or even against the room tax. But opposing an organization like the bureau that promotes the city? It's personal."

"I have sat in meetings where it was told to me that if Bobbie were to leave, resuming the funding would be considered," said Manning. "It's been that point-blank at times. Now tell me that's not personal."

Patterson has stymied her critics by keeping BCVB's doors open. Even after being evicted from their previous offices by GBAD, management at Boise's Owyhee Plaza Hotel offered the bureau a new home. Patterson and six colleagues have worked for eight months without compensation.

"Honestly, we don't know how to close our doors," said Patterson. "We have too many customers and pending conventions counting on us."

Manning, Patterson, board members of both BCVB and GBAD, and each candidate running for office on May 17 all acknowledge that something has to change and, indeed, too much is at stake.

Polls will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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