Much Ado About Macy's

Shakespeare Festival considers expansion plans

| November 14, 2012
The one-year construction project turning the old Macy's building into affordable housing and additional commercial space [which may include Idaho Shakespeare Festival] begins in spring 2013.
The one-year construction project turning the old Macy's building into affordable housing and additional commercial space [which may include Idaho Shakespeare Festival] begins in spring 2013.

To be or not to be.

Boise Weekly has learned that Idaho Shakespeare Festival officials have been in conversations regarding the possibility of moving the company's administrative and rehearsal space and creating a new performance venue in the former Macy's building at 10th and Idaho streets in downtown Boise.

When BW first broke the story precisely one year ago (BW, Citydesk, "Proposal Unveiled to Convert Macy's Into Affordable Housing," N. 14, 2011), reporting that developers had their eye on the vacant building to introduce what they called "workforce housing" to the downtown core, members of the Capital City Development Corporation Board of Commissioners greeted the news as "exciting."

Twelve months later, Dave Wali, broker with Colliers International and shepherd of the project, told BW that all signs point to a massive construction project at the location, slated to begin in spring.

"There's a good reason we don't want to start any earlier. If we got under way now, we'd be done in a year and nobody likes to move in to a new location in the winter," said Wali. "Spring makes more sense."

John Trienen, chief estimator for Boise-based CSDI Construction, confirmed that his company is poised to be the general contractor for the renovation of the building, which has sat empty since March 2010 when Macy's pulled up stakes. Trienen has been working with architects, designers and Northwest Real Estate Capital Corporation, a nonprofit that specializes in affordable-housing management. A confidential agreement was inked between Macy's and NWRECC earlier this year detailing the evolution of the vacant structure into 62 individual apartments ranging in size from 518- to 1,000-square feet on the second through fifth floors. Rent is expected to cost approximately $540-$1,040 monthly, targeting people with an average income of $20,000-$27,000.

"It's such a landmark building, such a beloved building," said Cece Gassner, economic development assistant to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. "Getting that building activated with a lot of vibrancy can only help Boise's downtown."

Gassner confirmed that there has been dialogue--albeit informal--involving Idaho Shakespeare Festival regarding the open space on the first floor and mezzanine of the old Macy's Building.

"Yes, my knowledge is that there have been conversations with [ISF]," said Gassner. "But I'm really not allowed to talk about the specifics."

Trienen took it a step further, saying his company had crafted "a rough estimate for the Shakespeare Festival on that space."

"Those conversations took place within the last four months," he said. "We're working with the architects at CSHQA. They come up with a conceptual design, we get the plans, consult with contractors and put some numbers together, and go from there."

Trienen added that the conversations are far from a "done deal."

"But this is going to be a very high profile midtown project, and that would a pretty significant entertainment venue," said Trienen.

CCDC Director Anthony Lyons couldn't agree more.

"The thing that I find most wonderful here is that you have the city, the CCDC, a nonprofit and a for-profit developer all working toward making something happen," said Lyons. "Right now, it's not about who can do what. It's more about what works or what doesn't work. But everyone coming together to make something special at that location is the best part of this."

ISF officials are being extremely cautious to characterize their conversations, which they insisted are "very informal."

"The most critical thing for us is that we have to bring in a large group of supporters for something like this, from the CCDC to the Mayor's Office," said Mark Hofflund, ISF managing director. "If it's structured right and the leaders are there and the plans are taken through a logical progression, then you can get buy-in along the way."

Charlie Fee, ISF's producing artistic director, said the redevelopment at the old Macy's site is huge for the city, no matter who moves into the ground floor.

"The project is very exciting: Workforce housing creates a component in downtown Boise that's clearly needed and benefits everyone," said Fee. "To be able to combine that idea with a performance space would be an exciting, visionary project for the city."

Fee quickly added that it was "far too early in our planning to make any sort of statement on whether this is the project we're going to join or not," but said, "if we could be a player, that would be exciting."

"There's nothing surprising about the fact that the Shakespeare Festival has, in its long-range planning, been looking for a permanent space for its administrative offices, rehearsal space, classroom space and for our very large-and growing drama school program," said Fee. "And we're always looking at the possibility for a second venue that the Shakespeare Festival can use, perhaps with other community organizations, as a performance space."

Fee told BW that he and others from ISF inspected the building, which was built in the 1920s, "and we were very impressed."

But whether ISF can craft a deal to expand into the landmark space will require a lot more dialogue, formal and informal. And all parties agreed that those conversation will need to pick up the pace if next spring's construction start date could include plans for the festival's new offices and performance space.

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