It's overwhelming in size but at Jack's Urban Meeting Place—the other-worldly architectural wonder better known as JUMP (1000 W. Myrtle St.)—it's the whimsical nature and dazzling colors that truly jump out.
"Let's sit inside 'Taste Bud,'" said Kathy O'Neill, JUMP community engagement director, climbing inside a huge cartoon monster designed as a shanty with comfortable seating for six. Inside, Taste Bud's "tongue" serves as a table, spilling out of its mouth to provide even more table space for dozens of other visitors. Appropriately, Taste Bud is only a few feet from a huge kitchen studio, which will hold cooking lessons and community dinners.
Taste Bud is only the first flight of fancy inside JUMP, not the least of which is the building's much-discussed five-story spiral slide.
"Yes, when I talk to community groups all over Idaho, I think I'm asked about that slide as much as anything," said O'Neill.
Maggie Soderberg, JUMP executive director, knows something about it, too.
"Jack probably would have been the first one down that slide," she said.
"Jack" is the late J.R. Simplot, who dreamed of a museum-like home for his eclectic collection of 110 antique tractors and steam engines, and in whose memory the J.R. Simplot Company Foundation created JUMP, which has been under construction in downtown Boise for four years.
The new Simplot Corporation headquarters on the same block is still being built (completion is expected by late 2016), but the doors of the JUMP building will spring open this month for three open house events on a trio of Sundays: Dec. 13, 20 and 27.
This holiday season is a stark contrast to the lump of coal in the Foundation's Christmas stocking in 2010 when the city of Boise Design Review Committee rejected initial plans for the project. Then-Commissioner Elizabeth Wolf went as far as calling JUMP "a parking garage embellished with theme park elements." Wolf ultimately resigned from the committee and many work sessions later, the city of Boise gave JUMP the green light. The five-story slide survived.
"You may remember that there were three slides in the original plans. We still have one. Honestly, I would rather have a slide here than a heating system," said Soderberg. "Those early days during the City Hall hearings? I don't know. We had a PR guy meet with us back then, and he kept asking, 'Why do you want to do this?' What can I say? There was just something so right about doing JUMP. And for the record, we've had amazing support in the community."
Soderberg said she's perfectly fine with critics who will still find something not to like about JUMP once it opens its doors.
"When you build something this unusual, there will always be folks who really, really love it and find their passion here because they can also find fun here," she said. "Anytime you do something this different, quite frankly, there will always be folks who don't like anything that's new. That's just going to have to be OK. Somebody will ask, 'What were you thinking?' but someone else will say, 'This is wonderful.'"
Alongside the cartoon monster named Taste Bud, there's an elephant in the room: The looming question of JUMP's purpose. When asked "What exactly is JUMP?" O'Neill and Soderberg looked at each other and laughed.
"We have come to the conclusion that it's pretty difficult to explain JUMP," said O'Neill. "Everybody's experience will be different."
Instead of trying to explain JUMP's mission, it might be easier to describe what's inside JUMP: five interactive studios where the public can participate in classes, performances, roundtable discussions or celebrations; the kitchen studio; an inspiration studio or "think-tank space"; a maker's studio for builders and inventors; a movement studio for dance, yoga and performing arts; and a multimedia studio for filmmakers. Idaho nonprofits and individuals will be granted access to the facilities, and wrangling the logistics may be JUMP's most formidable task.
Both admitted scheduling all of the different classes, performances, workshops and events involving scores of different groups or nonprofits will require organization and patience.
"Right now, we're starting some test-programming in all of the studios," Soderberg said. "Each of those studios will have something going on during our open house events. ... Yes, we're talking to a lot of nonprofits about coming to JUMP—we've been talking to them for years, quite frankly, but we don't want any of them to call JUMP their home. JUMP needs to be open to everyone."
As for Jack's tractors, 30 of the giant antiques are already inside JUMP and about 20 more will be outside by the fall of 2016.
"JUMP has tractors, but we also have 'attractors.' Like Taste Bud here outside of the kitchen," said O'Neill, pointing out JUMP has other attractors: There's "Deep Tinker" outside the maker's studio, a giant butterfly named "Flutter Foot" outside the movement studio and a nest near the inspiration studio to sit in and hatch ideas.
Later, outside the main entrance, O'Neill brushed away some of the season's first snowflakes to reveal a question embedded in the pavement.
"When was the last time you did something for the first time?" it will ask visitors as they walk through JUMP's doors. In the coming weeks, there's a good chance a number of Boiseans will be able to answer, "Just now, when I went down a five-story slide."