Thomas Ahlquist (he prefers to be called Tommy) said he was surprised to see so many people pack a ballroom at Boise's Grove Hotel Monday afternoon to hear him speak. He acknowledged that there was plenty of curiosity about the Gardner Company (of which he is the Chief Operating Officer) and its construction of the Eighth and Main Tower. But he also vividly remembered how many times he couldn't get many people to listen to his company's designs for a structure that would become Idaho's tallest building.
"I was sitting in the office of a prominent [Boise] attorney and I was talking about our plans," said Ahlquist. "And he started laughing. And he wouldn't stop. He said, 'This is never going to happen. Never.' I saw him recently on the street and I asked him, 'Do you believe me now?' He replied, 'I'm not sure. It's not finished yet.'"
But the tower is rapidly moving toward its completion, and Ahlquist told a gathering of the City Club of Boise that his company was poised to get a certificate of occupation "on or around" January 15, 2014.
When asked how important it was to build Idaho's newest and tallest building, Ahlquist smiled and leaned in to the microphone.
"Of course it was," he said. "By about three-feet, eight-and-a-half inches. But no one's counting."
Ahlquist talked a great deal about the high-profile project, but perhaps most surprising to City Club attendees was learning that Ahlquist is a physician.
"I still work every other Tuesday evening for my emergency room shift at St. Luke's downtown," said Dr. Alhlquist, who teamed with Idaho State University to open the Unity Health medical clinic in Meridian. He also founded a company which provides public access to defibrillation equipment throughout the country.
Ahlquist talked about medicine, his family and even quoted Emily Dickinson but he got more than a few attendee's attention when he was asked about Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's recent comments that Ada County Highway District impact fees were "a disincentive for economic development."
"The upfront fees you pay are very high. They're a barrier to things happening," said Alhlquist who added that the ACHD impact fees for the Eighth and Main tower were in the millions of dollars. "We don't like paying the fees. That said, ACHD has been wonderful to work with."
Ahlquist said space in the Eighth and Main tower has been filling up steadily, with four restaurants, lawyers offices and Zions Bank becoming the initial tenants.
"Plus, we're announcing today that Zenergy Health Club of Sun Valley will become another of our new main tenants," he said. "They'll be taking up most of the back half of the building on our second floor. They'll be opening a high-end downtown fitness center and spa."
As for Emily Dickinson, Ahlquist said a poem, written in 1850, continues to guide his personal and professional pursuits.