The jigsaw piece that is the Greater Boise Auditorium District is a puzzle unto itself--beginning with the fact that many people don't even know they live inside the district.
"Here it is," said the Boise Metro Chamber Vice President Ray Stark, pointing to a couple dozen jagged edges shooting to all points of the compass in the heart of Ada County. "It's bigger than the city of Boise but smaller than the county. It's the same boundary that was the old Boise Junior College taxing district from the 1930s."
Extending north to the Foothills; east and south to Barber Park, Harris Ranch and the Boise Airport; jogging west to Eagle Road and back north to the Boise River, GBAD--as it's more commonly known--is home to nearly 123,000 registered voters.
Yet voter turnout in most previous GBAD elections has been abysmal: One runoff, in 1995, had as few as 211 votes. Only 591 total votes were counted in 1991. And three of the past four elections were canceled because no one challenged incumbents.
But there is a full slate of hopefuls courting votes Tuesday, May 21. It may be a fool's errand to vie for a position that pays $60 a year on a board that has seen two resignations in the past year--while one board member accused colleagues of acting "like children," yet another member said its budget "didn't pass the smell test." Nonetheless, eight candidates, including three incumbents, are competing this year for three slots on the GBAD board.
"I think there has been a lot of pressure on this board by the media, and in particular Boise Weekly, to get something done," said Hy Kloc, GBAD board chairman. "Do you remember the story you wrote last November [BW, News, "All My GBAD Children," Nov. 28, 2012]? Your drawing showed all of us on the board as part of one big angry body, and one of the hands was around my throat. That really cracked me up."
But not everyone was laughing through much of 2010-2012, as rancor defined many of the GBAD board meetings, with members alleging open-meeting and ethics violations [BW, Citydesk, "Shouting, Rumor of Dissolution," Aug. 11, 2011], conflict with the city's own convention and visitor's bureau [BW, Citydesk, "Still More Controversy," July 13, 2011], and even one board member attempting to hold office while living and working in eastern Idaho [BW, News, "Home Away From Home," Aug. 24, 2011].
"Your stories were perfect. We've got to improve our credibility," said Kloc. "Our mission is still the best kept secret in Boise."
Idaho Code allows for GBAD's existence and taxing authority (a 5 percent hotel room levy) to build, operate and market auditoriums, exhibitions halls, convention centers, sports arenas "and facilities of a similar nature," which many have interpreted to include performing arts facilities. As a result, GBAD owns and operates the Boise Centre (built 23 years ago) and owns a five-acre vacant block bordered by Front, Myrtle, 11th and 13th streets, which more than a few citizens think should be the home of a new convention center, multi-use stadium or both.
"The ripple effect on the economy is huge," said Downtown Boise Association Director Karen Sander. "It's critical, and any future investment can only help with that vibrancy."
"Last year, the Boise Centre had about 143,000 attendees, quite a success story. We think the annual economic impact is close to $30 million," said Stephanie Astorquia, a current GBAD board member running for another six-year term. "The Boise Centre has 47,000 square feet and that's mostly ballroom and meeting space. But the Centre doesn't have adequate exhibit space. Basically, visitors can meet and eat but not exhibit."
Rob Perez, another GBAD incumbent also running for a six-year term on the board, echoed Astorquia's scenario.
"We currently have about 65 prospects that Boise can't serve," said Perez. "GBAD currently has $13 million in cash and we're adding more than $2 million net to that balance every year. We can support about $25 million in debt. We could expand the current convention center and have more for other projects. This is really not an 'either-or' proposition."
Peter Oliver, who is also running to keep his two-year seat on the GBAD board, cautioned that construction is just a piece of the expense.
"Whether it's expansion of the Boise Centre or construction of a new facility, you've got to ask yourself: 'Can we afford to run it?'"
But if Kloc (who is not up for re-election for another four years) has his way, he'll be working alongside someone other than current colleagues Astroquia, Perez or Oliver.
"I'm supporting three other candidates," said Kloc. "I'm pulling for Steve Berch, George Tway and Jim Walker. Steve has project management skills from his years at Hewlett-Packard. George owns a travel agency and has an incredible amount of insight on finance. And Jim Walker always puts his community first, as a captain with the Boise Fire Department."
John May, former chair of the Capital City Development Corporation board and longtime owner of the Owyhee Plaza Hotel, said he's also challenging the incumbents because, "The GBAD board is still missing a true hospitality professional."
Yet another candidate--and yes, that makes eight--Noah Bard, says he's qualified for the GBAD board because, "This is what I do. I'm an operations manager for Production Services International, booking and facilitating conventions and trade shows around the country, including Boise. I'm in a unique position to know how much Boise needs more convention space. Boise can't risk losing business during an expansion."
Walker added that when he gets a chance to talk to voters, "I end up spending more time explaining the district than I do talking about myself."
And while he says he does eventually get around to talking about taxing authority, expansion, construction or successful governance, he might also want to try explaining that puzzle-piece of a map.