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Lofty Goals

DNA serves needs of new urban residents

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Download a copy of a map of the Downtown Neighborhood Association with highlighted residential developments here.

Next week, amid cars circling for parking spots and bikes weaving around packs of strolling pedestrians, something new will roll into BoDo—moving vans. The Aspen Lofts, Scott Kimball's prism-faced 17-story mixed-use condo complex, will finally open its doors to downtown's newest urban residents.

Karen Sander takes a gander at the changing face of downtown. - LAURIE PEARMAN
  • Laurie Pearman
  • Karen Sander takes a gander at the changing face of downtown.

"We just finally got our certificate of occupancy," said Beth Gregg, director of marketing and sales. "We'll have probably four residents living there ... We've got one on five, one on six and then two on the ninth floor. For a while, they'll be Lone Rangers there."

But those Lone Rangers won't be lonely for long. All across downtown, condo projects are filling up with folks who've traded their lawns for long carpeted hallways, their garages for voice-automated elevators and their porch-swings for sweeping panoramic views. While developments like the 32-unit Tower Plaza Condominiums and the five-unit Veltex Building condos have completely sold, other developments are gradually filling. The Royal Plaza has 14 of 26 units occupied, the CitySide Lofts sold 23 units of 64, and the Jefferson Building closed on 10 percent of its 43 condos. As downtown swells to accommodate this new residential population, steps are being taken to ensure the needs of what could become Idaho's first real urban neighborhood are being met.

"If you're living downtown, there are certain amenities that you might need that a business person might not need—grocery store, laundry mat, that kind of thing," said Adam Park, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bieter. "We want to make sure that those needs are met in the long term, and a neighborhood association would help to focus on those needs."

The Downtown Neighborhood Association has technically existed for decades, but recently there's been a push among residents, developers and business owners to make it an active organization. Currently housed under the wing of the Downtown Boise Association, the DNA is building strength to leave the nest and become its own separate association.

"We have approximately 10 residents interested in assisting on a coordinating group to get the DNA moved from the DBA to its own entity," said DBA director Karen Sander. Though the DNA is now comprised in large part of residential developers—Bill Clark (The Jefferson, The Veltex), Jim Tomlinson (River Walk), Scott Kimball (Aspen Lofts)—there is a push to drum up more residential involvement. The number of actual residents within the DNA boundaries, include mostly renters, explained Bryant Forrester, who runs the real-estate Web site boisecondosandlofts.com.

"The boundaries of the DNA take you way over to Cottonwood Grille, and they bring in all the apartments down by City Side Lofts. The condo owners ... have a much bigger participation rate in the DNA, but the DNA does not exclude non-owners and it also includes merchants," he said.

While all of Boise's 36 neighborhood associations welcome renters, it's odd for a neighborhood association to also involve business owners. According to Sander, it's important for the whole downtown community—residents and merchants alike—to have a seat at the table when discussing the future of the downtown.

"The plan is to have a board position on the DBA for a resident and a board position on the DNA for a business rep," Sander said. "The goal is to have open lines of communication and work together as one neighborhood."

Sander and Forrester are planning a social event to introduce new downtown residents to the DNA.

For Dana Wendland, a CitySide Lofts condo renter who also owns the downtown shoe store SoleMates, her desires as a downtown dweller mirror her wants as a business owner.

"One thing I think would be good, as a business owner and a resident, is more shopping," said Wendland. "The more boutiques there are, the more it complements my business because it brings people downtown and the more it provides for me as a customer."

And Wendland is not alone. Fellow CitySide lofts residents Al Greenberg and wife Janet Holmes also hope to see more stores go in downtown as the residential population increases.

"A small downtown grocery store would be awfully nice, but maybe that will happen when the population density is greater downtown," says Greenberg.

Greenberg and Holmes moved from the North End to the CitySide Lofts two years ago to be closer to downtown and to simplify their home-owning obligations. Even though they travel a lot, they plan on being active in the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

"We're really gone for several months every year, and it's so much easier in a condo to just lock it up and leave and not have to worry about who's going to take care of the lawn and look out for the place," said Greenberg. "On top of that, we were able to get rid of one of our two cars."

Simplicity and ease of mobility are common wants for new downtown condo owners, according to Gregg. Though the Aspen building has highly fluctuating price points—ranging from moderate $170,000 street-level studios to $4-million high-rise penthouse suites—the demographics of buyers have been startlingly similar. A large majority of Aspen owners are baby boomers whose kids have recently left the house, said Gregg. Many see the condo as a second home or a rest stop for when they're in town on business.

Clark has seen similar Baby Boomer types looking to buy condos at the Jefferson Lofts, though a handful of Generation Y couples have also expressed interest.

"We're seeing a lot of empty nesters and also young people, singles without children—DINKs.It sounds derogatory, but stands for Double Income, No Kids," said Clark, laughing.

Though the economy has made it difficult for many to obtain loans for more reasonably priced workforce housing, downtown real estate agents and developers have faith that will change.

"This economy has created an awful lot of naysayers, but the fact is that there's an unsatisfied demand based on either the younger generation or the baby boomer generation to live down in an urban setting, and that won't go away," said Forrester.

Regardless of downtown's changing demographics, like any residential neighborhood, there will be issues that require a neighborhood association for resolution. Though both Wendland and Greenberg acknowledge that late-night noise is part of the urban package, the city's downtown task force has formed a special noise ordinance subcommittee to tackle any noise complaint issues.

"People move to a downtown core knowing it's going to be more vibrant and knowing that there's going to be more to do. At the same time ... at 3 a.m., you don't necessarily want to hear people banging on your trash cans," said Cece Gassner, assistant to the mayor for economic development.

While trash can banging and thumping music won't disappear anytime soon, downtown Boise is preparing for some new noises—the drip of coffee makers, the splash of showers and the hum of televisions as hundreds of residents go about their daily routines.

"If you take a cue from what's happening in other areas like Portland [Ore.], Seattle and Denver, downtown residential development starts slow and then the curve steepens," said Clark. "[Residents] support the commercial activities in downtown and people start to see that there are people living there and enjoying it. Word of mouth gets around and, ultimately, there's more life on the streets."

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