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John Brunelle

A short walk from his old job at Boise City Hall to new digs on 9th Street but a big change as he becomes the Executive Director of CCDC

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John Brunelle has lost count of how many State of the City addresses he has attended--whether as a member of the public sector, including his stint as president and owner of the Idaho Stampede, or in the public sector as director of Boise's Office of Economic Development.

But the June 12 State of the City presented an interesting dynamic for Brunelle; he was on hand to support his boss, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, but he ended up sitting with staff from the Capital City Development Corporation--his new employer as of June 17.

Boise Weekly sat down to talk with Brunelle, minutes after Bieter had wrapped up his remarks, to talk about working for the city for the past five years and his new challenge as CCDC's executive director, a position he says he hopes to hold for many years to come.

I'm guessing that you needed to listen to this State of the City a little differently.

Absolutely. It changed dramatically for me, looking at the same scene but through a different lens. I certainly see connections where the city can help CCDC and vice versa. And there will be more connections going forward, probably more than ever before.

How would you rank this most recent address from the mayor?

I think every one of them ranks a 10 out of 10, but as of today, I'm still employed by the city. Next year, maybe I can be more critical.

Did you detect a boldness in the mayor's address, in particular his pushback against some of what he characterized as economic hindrance coming from the Statehouse?

I think so. I think the mayor knows it's time to work toward building a coalition among those that may be Boise-centric, knowing that we're not always going to get help from too many on the outside. We have to chart our own course.

When did you first think about becoming CCDC executive director?

Actually, it was the last time the position opened up two years ago.

But you weren't an applicant then.

I just thought about it and watched the process happen. When it opened up again this year, I took a serious look at it and consulted with [Boise Chief of Staff] Jade Riley and, of course, Mayor Bieter. I wanted to make sure I had the green light to pursue it.

But could the mayor tell you not to pursue it?

Well, I'm not a free agent. I was an appointed staffer in the mayor's office and I would not have sought the CCDC position without his permission. He took some time to deliberate and said, "Yeah, go for it." I think I might have been one of the last applicants to throw my name into the process--that was in early April.

What did the CCDC board tell you that they were looking for in a new executive director?

Execution. The organization has a good plan, but they were really looking for someone who could collaborate, step in, manage the team but really execute the plan that's in place.

Your most immediate predecessor, Anthony Lyons, was an intellectual and only held the job for a year. The man who preceded him, Phil Kushlan, was in the position for 12 years, and was very hands-on and politically astute. How would you characterize your management style?

As this organization comes into its 50th year--and there have been many executive directors--it's clear to me that the job is not about my management style. CCDC is an agency to help make Boise better. Now, I've got that opportunity to lead CCDC and I hope to be doing that for a long, long time.

But what do you bring to the job?

Local knowledge and local relationships. I come from a family with a long history of local public service. I was in the private sector for 25 years and with the city for the past five years. Now, I have this opportunity thanks, in large part, to the mayor. I look at this as my chance to give back to the city I love.

Sports have always been a big part of your personal and professional life, given your past ownership and management of the Stampede.

Sports was always part of my upbringing, especially team sports.

Can CCDC help the local auditorium district build a multi-use sports stadium for the city?

I think the jury is still out on whether or not a stadium is the right thing for right now. It's worthy of discussion, along with a lot of other projects.

Another proposed project is for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival to move its operations and create a new inner-city theater in the old Macy's building. What's the latest on that?

I hope to find out soon. It's a great concept and a fabulous location. Even if it doesn't pencil out in that particular building, we really need to hold onto that idea and see if we can make that happen someplace else downtown. Live performing arts is what helps define Boise. It's great for our brand. And this proposal is just great.

You'll need to hit the ground running. With all of the streetscape construction, dozens of private projects in different stages of development and CCDC's plans to automate all of its downtown garages, you're walking into an office with a pretty fully inbox.

I have to acknowledge the CCDC team that has been working on all of these for the past few years. I need to quickly absorb the challenges on all of those current projects, and yes, I'll be playing catch-up. But I have to keep my eye on 2014 and beyond.

A lot of folks only know CCDC as the entity that owns and operates the downtown parking garages.

Garages help developers find the economics to come in and invest in our downtown. Developers, retailers and restaurants can come in because they know the parking piece of the puzzle has been solved. That said, we need to start talking with the city about parking plans for the future. That's long-term, but we have to pick up the pace a bit. Parking may sound boring or mundane but it's important.

What does Boise need that it doesn't have?

A local-option tax. We also need a structured entrepreneurial ecosystem, similar but not identical to Boulder, Colo., or the San Francisco Bay Area. Almost as important as our buildings or structural development is our ability to attract young, driven, creative builders. But they're only going to come if we have a young, knowledge-based economy to power us forward.