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State of Downtown: 'Boise is Part of the National Conversation'

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There's the State of the Union, State of the State, State of the City and even State of Downtown. The latter was the topic at hand Tuesday morning as hundreds packed a Boise Centre ballroom to hear from Downtown Boise Association Executive Director Karen Sander, Capital City Development Corporation Executive Director John Brunelle and keynoter Carol Coletta, vice president for community and national initiatives for the James L. Knight Foundation, where she runs a $60 million portfolio of community grants.

Coletta's address zeroed in on what she said should be any vibrant downtown's "target demographic"—college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds.

"They choose the city where they want to live first, then they look for a job," said Coletta. "And the places they choose to live, time and again, are downtown or within a 3-mile radius of downtown. Now, some people say, 'Boise is the exception.' Well, if you continue to believe that, you're going to find yourselves behind the times."

Carol Coletta
  • Carol Coletta
Coletta also pointed to what she said was the importance of a city's "walk score." Walk Score, a Seattle-based company tracks the walkability of a metropolis. The company regularly assigns walk scores to thousands of companies and websites.

"People will pay a premium for a home with a higher walk score," said Coletta. "What those walk scores represent are the number of daily destinations within an easy walking distance from their home."

And with several high-profile mixed-use projects already underway in Boise's downtown core, which will presumably attract more residents to the downtown neighborhood, Coletta cautioned city planners not to "suburbanize" the urban experience.

"Don't make this an unpleasant environment by introducing bigger stores," she said. "You'll end up with too many blank walls that have nothing to do with the downtown experience."

Coletta said Boise was "Becoming part of the national conversation."

And Sander reminded the gathering that there's plenty to talk about: 32 new businesses opened in Downtown Boise in 2014. More impressively, she pointed to a Google Map of the downtown area with a cluster of dots. 

"They represent 71 projects that are either underway or just completed in Downtown Boise."