The City of Boise's tug-of-war with the Ada County Highway District has been long-chronicled. The city and Mayor Dave Bieter have debated for as long as anyone can remember why it is that the Treasure Valley has a separate authority that controls more than 2,100 miles of Ada County roads. In fact, Bieter's frustration is also the centerpiece of an anecdote that he has shared for the past several years.
In July 2010, Bieter played host to Jaialdi, the massive, all-things-Basque festival that visits the City of Trees every five years. Among the mayor's special guests were Patxi Lopez, former Socialist Basque president, and Lopez's wife, Begona Gil, herself a councilwoman in Bilbao, Spain. Gil was stunned as Bieter explained how he governed nearly all of Boise, yet had little, if any, say over what happened from curb to curb on city streets.
"El alcalde sin calles!" exclaimed the half-amused, half-shocked Gil. "The mayor with no streets!"
That will no longer be the case, thanks to a unique gift from the Boise urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corporation. In fact, the City of Boise will have two city blocks to call its own: Eighth Street between Bannock and Main streets. As an added attraction, CCDC will also transfer the deed for The Grove Plaza over to the city. But it's not as if CCDC was simply being generous. It must transfer that property somewhere as it ties up the loose ends on the Central District in Boise's downtown core. But the days of The Central District, the first urban renewal district in Idaho history, were numbered.
"The term we use is 'sunset.' It sounds better than 'termination,'" CCDC Executive Director John Brunelle told Boise Weekly in 2016.
The district was a wellspring of modern-day development. Inside its boundaries, with federal urban renewal dollars fueling the engine, the district saw the creation of massive projects such as One Capital Center (1975); Boise City Hall (1977); Idaho First National Bank, now the U.S. Bank Building (1979); The Grove Plaza (1987); The Wells Fargo Center (1988); The Capitol Plaza Building, now The Chase Building (1995); The Grove Hotel and Bank of America Center, now CenturyLink Arena (1988); The Eighth and Main tower (2014); and the City Center Plaza (2017).
CCDC's highest-profile project was the purchase and construction of The Grove Plaza, completed and dedicated in 1986. To facilitate the construction of the plaza, ACHD had vacated Eighth Street between Front and Main streets and Grove Street between Capitol Boulevard and Ninth Street, putting the adjacent land under the ownership of CCDC. By 1989, CCDC additionally acquired the two blocks of Eighth Street between Bannock and Main streets. That's why CCDC has been the landlord, so to speak, to the Capital City Public Market, which occupies those two blocks of Eighth Street each spring, summer and fall.
One of CCDC's last major investments in the Central District was its remodel of The Grove Plaza, completed in 2017.
But all good things must come to an end. By law, no urban renewal district can be maintained in perpetuity; and that's why CCDC needed to consider who might be the new landlord of The Grove Plaza and the two-block stretch of Eighth Street. In 2016, Brunelle told BW that the plaza would most likely go to the city. Rather than deed Eighth Street back to ACHD, CCDC opted instead to transfer that to the city as well.
"Well, you have to start somewhere," Bieter told BW upon hearing the news. "Without that catalyst, I think it's fair to say that there's no way we would have the vibrancy we have. But it's also important that the Central District go away. [Urban renewal districts] shouldn't be permanent entities."
The actual transfer is made possible through something called a "quitclaim deed," not unlike a real estate transfer where there is no sale or transfer of funds. On Aug. 28, the Boise City Council was asked to sign off on the acquisitions.
"There used to be a t-shirt that read: 'Boise at Night.' It was a big black rectangle. Nothing was there," said Bieter. "I'm not sure people have an appreciation, especially if you weren't here in the '70s and '80s, for what the Central District has meant for Boise."