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'Is Pengilly's Still Open?' Marathon City Council Session on St. Luke's Plan Wraps With No Deliberation

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When Boise Mayor Dave Bieter adjourned the marathon June 30 Boise City Council meeting it was early Wednesday morning—1:08 a.m., to be exact. He turned to an exhausted crowd and said, "The biggest question now is, 'Is Pengilly's open?'" referring to the popular Boise watering hole down the block from City Hall.

The mayor knew all too well that making last call was the second biggest question of the night, at best. The Boise City Council still hadn't deliberated and decided what to do about the controversial St. Luke's Hospital Master Plan, which includes the permanent closure of a portion of Jefferson Street.

The issue drew a significant number of citizens to the meeting, which the council gaveled into session at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, hoping it wouldn't go into the next morning. But as the evening stretched on, it became clear that the hearing would indeed turn a long day's journey into night.

"This was quite a good night," said Bieter at the end of the proceedings. "No matter where you fall on this, you have to appreciate that this was a good night."

The hearing was civil throughout, with scores of residents weighing in on the matter. The council took in full presentations from the St. Luke's team as well as opponents, represented most fully by a coalition of East Boise residents calling themselves Keep Boise Connected. The opponents ceded some of their time to David Allison, described as a "nationally recognized health architect and educator."

Allison cautioned council members that, "Your patient is the city," and creating a "choke point" with the closure of Jefferson would "do the patient harm."

"I have to think there is more than one solution to this," said Allison. "Vibrant, urban environments are never cul-de-sacs. And you're not going to create a rich urban environment. It's just not going to be possible."

A steady stream of citizens stood before the council to speak on the plan, including a few notable names: Gardner Company President Tommy Ahlquist, former gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff and Treasure Valley YMCA CEO Jim Everett all spoke in favor of the St. Luke's plan. They were joined by a good many St. Luke's employees and providers, who also argued on behalf of one of Boise's largest employers.

Even opponents prefaced their remarks by saying they admired St. Luke's and its desire to expand, but the Jefferson closure was a nonstarter. Ultimately, the speakers were almost evenly divided on the debate. 

Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan moved that the council deliberate and vote on the issue when it next gathers on Tuesday, July 7. The city's legal counsel cautioned lawmakers not to address the issue with any of the parties involved in the matter until then.