Judy Subia remembers Christmas shopping in downtown Caldwell when she was a teen.
"There were always people out and things to do ... it was a fun place," she said.
Subia and her husband Vern were both born and raised in Caldwell and have owned Vern's Tavern (120 S. Seventh Ave.) for more than 30 years. They have witnessed the once-prosperous district deteriorate as businesses moved out, followed by customers, leaving downtown Caldwell largely deserted. However, a plan to revitalize the area with the construction of the Indian Creek Plaza, has brought hope back to a struggling community.
The $7 million plaza, currently under construction at the corner of Arthur Street and S. Kimball Avenue, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2018 and could attract thousands for concerts, ice skating, farmers markets and more. Currently, the city is planning to host about 200 events in the plaza each year. More people means more customers, a prospect local business are eagerly anticipating.
"We expect it to boom and are hoping to reap the benefits," said Tammy Jones, owner of NU 2 U Collectibles (718 Main St.).
The idea for a new downtown developed when Keri Smith-Sigman launched Destination Caldwell four years ago. She envisioned an area that would serve as a "central gathering place." She worked with Roger Brooks, a world-renowned specialist in community revitalization and branding, to create a vision that would provide economic opportunities and promote the area. The plan is modeled after Rapid City, South Dakota, a Brooks project that turned around a struggling downtown community.
Smith-Sigman now works for the city of Caldwell as director of economic development, and the plaza is a selling point for attracting new businesses and investors.
"Restaurants are the first step," she said, emphasizing how only locally owned restaurants in the Treasure Valley are being pursued. A Flying M coffee shop and a new-and-improved Bird Stop coffee house will open soon, joining the popular Indian Creek Steakhouse and several Mexican restaurants located within blocks of the plaza site.
Dillon Wickel, owner of Indian Creek Steakhouse, views the plaza as a "big game changer" that will turn Caldwell into a "thriving community and destination."
Dan and Kathy Norman own Norman Jewelers, which Dan's father opened in downtown Caldwell 70 years ago. They said the plaza will be a "wonderful addition" and believe revitalizing the area will "bring new life to downtown Caldwell."
While many are optimistic about the economic impacts of Indian Creek, others have expressed concern for residents and smaller businesses that may be priced out of the downtown area.
In addition to rising property values and rents, downtown businesses will be expected to foot the bill for the revitalization by way of a Business Improvement District tax. While some see it as a small payment in order to reap larger benefits, some local businesses could be hurt.
"I wonder how some of these people will pay for the increased taxes," Subia said. "They have been holding on for a while, and business has been slow from the construction closures." She added that a couple places have gone out of business since construction began.
Smith-Sigman admitted there isn't much that can be done to prevent the displacement of business owners who can't afford to stay downtown, but she pointed to the positive social impacts the plaza will bring, including reduced crime rates and a "safer, healthier community," a claim echoed by Dr. Megan Dixon, a Caldwell resident and a professor of Urban Geography and Environmental Studies at The College of Idaho.
"When large crowds gather in an area, there tends to be less crime. There are many downsides to gentrification ... But it also involves cleaning up an area and making it more attractive," Dixon said.
For an area with a history of crime, Smith-Sigman stressed revitalizing the district would be beneficial for everyone.
"We have a diverse group of board members that includes business owners, farmers and citizens, so we can get a sense of what everyone's needs are," Smith-Sigman said.
What local businesses need are, of course, customers.
"[Right now] people in Caldwell go to Walmart, the D & B or Nampa to shop," Smith-Sigman said. "We want to make downtown Caldwell a destination again."