Judy Peavey-Derr isn't fond of the acronym for the entity to which she was elected in 2011.
"Gee-Bad" she said, phonetically pronouncing the initials of the Greater Boise Auditorium District (GBAD). "Hmm. Gee-Bad. We don't really like that name. We prefer to call it 'The District.'"
Regardless of what it is called, many Treasure Valley citizens aren't familiar with GBAD, its function or its authority to tax. Now might might be a good time to learn more. On Tuesday, May 16, two seats on the five-person board of directors will be up for election in one of the most critical times in the history of GBAD: A proposed stadium and the future of tourism, one of our biggest economic engines, hang in the balance.
For many years, turnout for GBAD elections was laughable. In 1991, around 200 voters showed up to the polls. In a 1995 runoff, there were 211 total votes. Voter turnout jumped to 9,000 in the 2011 GBAD election and dropped to 6,000 in 2013, still a fraction of the 133,070 registered voters in the district.
The 2011 spike in interest was inspired, in large part, by a controversial decision of then-GBAD directors to cut $1.3 million in funding to the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Things went from bad to worse as GBAD directors accused one another of violating open meetings and ethics laws. One board member even attempted to hold office while living in eastern Idaho.
"That was then," said GBAD Director and Idaho House Rep. Hy Kloc (D-Boise) who, along with Peavey-Derr was voted onto GBAD in 2011. "I was looking back at the story Boise Weekly wrote at the time, and the illustration showed a five-headed monster with someone's hands around my throat, but that was then."
There hasn't been as much melodrama surrounding GBAD in the past few years, but it's not as if it has stayed out of the headlines. An infamous 2014 lawsuit against GBAD alleged it had skirted the Idaho Constitution in an alleged financing "scheme" to help pay for a recent renovation of the Boise Centre. Idaho Fourth District Judge Melissa Moody agreed with the plaintiffs, describing the GBAD arrangement as "subterfuge." The Idaho Supreme Court, however, overruled the lower court in favor of GBAD and greenlighted a massive Boise Centre expansion project.
The bad old days of drama seem to be in the rear-view mirror. During a GBAD candidate debate hosted by the Boise Chamber of Commerce on May 2, the only minor bit of drama was whether one of the candidates would show up.
"Does anybody even know what Scott Mecham looks like?" asked BCC Senior Vice President—and de-facto candidate wrangler—Ray Stark as the forum was about to get underway.
It was a fair question. Mecham's candidacy had set a new standard for under-the-radar campaigning. According to previous articles in the Idaho Business Review and Idaho Statesman, Mecham hadn't responded to interview requests and, by his own admission, wasn't familiar with most of the issues concerning GBAD. When Mecham did show for the debate, he repeatedly pointed to downtown parking as his primary campaign platform. But while GBAD has some tangential impact on parking, the city of Boise, ACHD and Capital City Development Corporation have much more of a say on the issue.
"Downtown parking is evaporating," said Mecham. "And it's getting worse. When people think about traveling to downtown Boise from West Ada County or Canyon County, they might as well be thinking about traveling to China."
Mecham, a CPA and financial adviser, doesn't have a campaign website or Facebook page, while his opponent, Kristin Muchow, employs all of the online tools normally used in a candidacy for a much bigger office.
A native of Gooding, Muchow likes to say she's a "farm girl at heart" but she's firmly entrenched in the Treasure Valley. Honored as 2011 Boise Young Professional of the Year, Muchow has worked for Boise-based Meeting Systems Inc. since 2001, the past eight years as its general manager. It's in that role Muchow contracts with companies, big and small, to facilitate conventions, conferences and events in cities across the nation.
"That puts me in the rare position of being ideally suited to be a GBAD director. I know the industry. I know the ins and outs. I know what questions to ask and what answers to expect," she said. "I've actually been in the audience of previous GBAD meetings when one of the directors would say, 'We ought to find out more about that.' I would sit there thinking, 'Well, I do know about that.' I immediately saw the need for somebody with industry experience and how it could benefit the board."
Muchow has mobilized a full-on campaign effort: mailers, door-to-door canvassing, yard signs, fundraisers, speaking engagements, and she even hired a campaign consultant and manager. Muchow also recognizes unseating one of two incumbents, Peavey-Derr and Kloc—who are also on the ballot—is going to be an uphill battle. But Muchow is ready to play hardball. She has already wrangled a high-profile endorsement from Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and City Councilman Scot Ludwig.
Bieter's endorsement triggered a city-wide conversation about a proposed multi-use stadium in or near downtown Boise, something the mayor has enthused about for years. In March, Bieter said developers struck a deal to purchase 11 acres near the intersection of Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive for a possible stadium.
"We are very excited about this milestone," said Bieter.
However, hizzoner knows full well the city can't foot the bill for a stadium that would reportedly cost $41 million. GBAD can, though. Its charter even spells out its ability to build "auditoriums, exhibition halls, convention centers and facilities of a similar nature."
"Having a stadium downtown would be fantastic for the city," Muchow told GBAD, knowing the possibility will drive more people to the polls May 16. "GBAD has a revenue stream that is highly unique to help make that happen. But first thing's first. GBAD's first priority is maintaining the operations of the Boise Centre. If you build a house, you want to be able to pay for the house."
Kloc is much more cautious when it comes to GBAD taking the lead on a stadium proposal.
"I think we would have some role but not the role," said Kloc, turning his attention back to the Boise Centre. "I think any good amenity for Boise would be good for our existing convention center."
Peavey-Derr distanced GBAD even further from the stadium.
"We don't really have a dog in this fight," she said.
Mecham wants GBAD involved—to a point.
"We could broker the discussions, but I don't want to see us wrangling over attorneys and legal fees," she said.
Given GBAD drama seems to be a distant memory, the time may be ripe for a new tussle—perhaps over a proposed stadium.