Tractor piazza 

Is Simplot development a park, event center, monument to agribusiness or all of the above?

click to enlarge The JUMP site, from the corner of 11th and Myrtle streets.

Nathaniel Hoffman

The JUMP site, from the corner of 11th and Myrtle streets.

The release last month of plans for a four-square-block Simplot family development west of BoDo leaves more questions than answers, including the most basic one: What do we call the $100-million production?

Boise City Planning and Development Services Director Bruce Chatterton has filed the proposal in the mixed-use category, but said it has a lot going on and really defies definitions.

He calls it a "kit of parts," with an almost modular design. But the dominant structures are souped-up parking lots.

Chatterton calls the large amount of parking a means to an end, or a way to support the activities on the site both physically and, maybe, financially. He said the Simplot family hopes to make the 7.5-acre property bounded by Front and Myrtle streets between Ninth and Eleventh a hub for culture and the arts in Boise.

"They're not much interested in retail," Chatterton confirmed.

J.R. Simplot Company spokesman David Cuoio, who also represents the Simplot heirs in speaking about Jack's Urban Meeting Place, or JUMP, agreed it's not going to be a shopping mall. In fact, JUMP's Web site will be a dot org.

"There really is no plan for commercial activities to speak of," Cuoio said. "It's going to be a center for all kinds of nonprofit activities including community fun."

Cuoio called the project a "parkscape," a word he claims to have invented and that local media has unquestioningly repeated.

According to Cuoio, an Idaho Statesman alum and longtime corporate spokesman, a parkscape is, "a parklike area with interesting, diverse and unusual elements not usually found in a park."

Los Angeles has a budding "parkscape," too, but it is defined as a cultural and environmental linkage between several existing urban parks.

Jack's Place does have some unique elements. The circumference of parking garages and possible new home of Simplot company headquarters will sit on piers 26 feet off the ground, allowing unhindered views of the interior. The garages are not just intended for parking, Cuoio said. Antique, steam-powered tractors (Simplot collected more than a 100 of these) and public spaces will be interspersed among the parking spots.

"There will be things happening in the parking area rather than cars just sitting there," he said.

Ketchum-based architect Susan Desko, who designed JUMP, said the parking areas will also frame the entire development, providing a vantage of the park that she likens to a theater in the round. The park-facing parking balconies and stairways will serve as a tailgating/people watching/hanging out venue in and of themselves.

Desko also said the four blocks will be much more open and connected to downtown than the drawing released to date shows.

"Jack's Urban Meeting Place is a green oasis, a clearing in the urban fabric which becomes a stage set, an urban 'theater in the round' for the kind of drama and variety and energy and vitality, planned and spontaneous, that attracts people and thus accelerates the pedestrian, retail, commercial and residential velocity of the streets that are drawn into its vortex," Desko writes in her personal vision of the project.

The design incorporates an outdoor amphitheater seating 1,200 people for concerts or shows and 500 for dinners, a sculpture garden, including more of Simplot's tractor collection, a re-creation of the old downtown train depot at 10th and Front streets and venues for weddings and classes.

Phil Kushlan, executive director of Capital City Development Corp., has been briefed on the project and agrees it incorporates a "generous" amount of parking. But Kushlan said it is a truly unique development that has no equivalent anywhere.

Perhaps that is because J.R. Simplot's daughter-in-law, Margaret Soderberg, who is project director and the main proponent of JUMP, sought inspiration across the world, particularly in some favored Italian piazzas, such as the Campo in Siena, which could fit within the JUMP footprint.

"They've gone around the world to find the best mix of public and enclosed spaces," said Boise City Councilman Alan Shealy. "It's an attempt to sort of amalgamate public and private uses in the best fashion."

Soderberg has given slideshow presentations to some of Boise's movers and shakers, including a private show to Mayor Dave Bieter and several council members when they were in Sun Valley recently for a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce conference.

Soderberg and Simplot granddaughter Debbie McDonald declined to discuss their project with BW. While the Simplot Family Foundation is funding JUMP, Cuoio said he prefers to say it is a Simplot family project, not the foundation's.

The foundation will also be housed at JUMP. A new headquarters for J.R. Simplot Company, which would rise to 16 stories, is also incorporated into the design, though the agribusiness giant, not the family, would finance that, and it remains under negotiation.

Shealy, a frequent critic of design in downtown Boise, called the preliminary drawings for JUMP "visionary" and said the parking structures would not look like parking structures.

"There really is a spiritual part of this; this is a project that comes from the heart as much as the mind," Shealy said.

Chatterton said Soderberg envisions an artisan market, like the Chelsea Market in New York City, where the public can watch bread being baked and then buy a loaf. There also could be a cafe, or what Chatterton characterized as a large museum store.

BoDo developer Mark Rivers has praised the boldness of the JUMP plan, but has concerns about some of the design.

"Four city blocks should be a part of a neighborhood and neighborhoods have commercial activities and people on the streets and outdoor dining and bicyclists," said Rivers, who has not seen any plans beyond what has been released to the public.

Rivers would like to see the street grid enhanced by the project. But one feature that the city has negotiated into the JUMP design is an expansion of the Pioneer Corridor, a north-south bike and walking path that will connect the Greenbelt to downtown. The path, only parts of which are now built, will likely cross the Simplot campus horizontally from the northeast, Chatterton said.

The city expects an official building application in a few months and Cuoio hopes to break ground in about a year.

Cuoio said he's not sure anyone discussed the project with J.R. Simplot prior to his death last year, but that he thinks Simplot would appreciate it for its homage to agricultural history, its charitable nature and not least of all, for its brass.

"He was a big thinker and this is something new and innovative," Cuoio said.

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