Taking the LID Off 

Who will pay to build the streetcar?

At the corner of Ninth and Main, which could be a future downtown streetcar stop, Steve Rambo is not that excited. He has no idea how much his rent will increase to help pay for train tracks in front of his 25-year-old jewelry store, and he's not sure he wants to pay up, especially since he watched as the old tracks were torn up years ago.

"I feel it really has little benefit to the merchants downtown," Rambo said.

And at the corner of 11th and Idaho, another future stop, and the likely site of a transit station, Michael Bunnell and Jill Sevy, owners of Record Exchange, are still debating the project in their back office.

Sevy is enthusiastic about the streetcar, imagining high school kids swarming down to the trains after the last bell and imagining herself finally getting the urge to travel all the way to Sixth Street to try the new Chronic Tacos.

Bunnell worries about the impact the downtown circulator--a modern streetcar that would run 2.2 miles, from 15th Street to just past First Street and back--will have on future public transportation plans. He also worried about the cost to small business owners until he did the math.

Using a formula that combines square footage and track frontage, Bunnell, an owner of the quarter block where Record Exchange and Neurolux sit, figured he'll owe about $22,000 toward the construction of the system.

"Over 20 years, that's not the end of the world," Bunnell said.

Mayor Dave Bieter wants to build a no-fare streetcar line downtown that will roll by any stop every 10 minutes and cost an estimated $60 million to build. The public remains skeptical of the city's plan to build a downtown streetcar line, according to a recent poll commissioned by the Idaho Statesman and a series of unscientific Boise Weekly interviews of downtown business owners along the proposed line.

"I thought it crashed," said Stan Minder, sitting behind the counter at Hannifin's, a century-old cigar shop at the corner of 15th and Main streets. "This isn't San Francisco."

Some 900 property owners will be asked to pay for about $10 million of the $60-million price tag under the city's current financing plan. Bieter hopes to pay for the bulk of the project with a $40-million federal stimulus grant, though the grant is very competitive with other cities vying for the same pot of money.

Assuming the $40 million Tiger grant comes through, the city plans to split the remaining $20 million cost evenly between downtown property owners and public agencies, namely CCDC and the City of Boise.

Kushlan said CCDC would have to incur some debt, borrowing against future development, to pony up its $5 million. The city is hoping to pay its $5 million share with one-time money, possibly reserve funds.

Downtown property owners are just starting to work out their bills, assuming the $10 million number, which could go up or down. Some are surprised at the numbers, often at how small they work out to when spread among tenants.

Clay Carley, an early champion of the streetcar project, member of the Streetcar Task Force and owner of Old Boise, a historic district at Sixth and Main, would contribute almost $265,000 toward the project.

"I could send both boys to private colleges for that," Carley said.

But it breaks down to about $22,000 per year for 20 years. Or $2,000 a month, spread over 17 downtown parcels. Or $340 a year for small tenants.

An average downtown block along the tracks would cost the property owner $133,140, which can be paid over 20 years at 5 percent interest, Kushlan said.

"This is not an ROI [return on investment] exercise," Carley said. "This is a community benefit exercise."

Carley, whose properties front the proposed streetcar line on Main Street, would be part of the local improvement district, or LID, that the city wants to form along the streetcar line.

LIDs allow municipalities in Idaho to improve roads and sidewalks, put in street lighting and landscaping, sewers and parking and canals or, "to make any other improvements now or hereafter authorized by any other law, the cost of which in whole or in part can properly be determined to be of particular benefit to a particular area within the municipality."

The streetcar LID would extend three blocks from the tracks, north to State Street and south to Broad Street. Properties in the first block will pay the full assessment, including a frontage fee. Owners on the second block away from the line will pay two-thirds of the assessment and the third block will pay a third.

The largest contributor to the LID would be St. Luke's Regional Medical Center, which estimates its bill at some $1.5 million. St. Luke's recently surveyed its employees to gauge their interest in the streetcar and one of the hospital's concerns is the impact on its parking.

"We're supportive of public transportation and anything that can be done to help that," said hospital spokesman Ken Dey. "We just want be sure this is the right project."

CCDC is working with a parking consultant to allay the hospital's fears that streetcar users will monopolize its free parking. About 70 percent of the traffic through downtown comes from the west side, Kushlan said.

Scott Schoenherr, a partner at Rafanelli and Nahas, another large property owner along the route, said he still has questions about how many people will ride the streetcar and how much development it will spur. But he shared Dey's assessment about using the downtown circulator as a first phase in a wider public transportation plan.

"If this is the first step in doing that then I support the streetcar," he said. "I don't know yet that it does."

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