BOISE, Idaho — A profession multi-sports stadium complex in the Treasure Valley has been a topic that has been white-hot over the past few years. And now, after going cold for a few months, the project maybe warming up again.
After the passage of Prop 2 in November, the initiative that requires voter approval for any stadium project of $5 million or more, many believed the proposed project was dead, and it still might be, at least in Boise.
Now, there is a "bubbling" below the surface with the potential of seeing a rebirth of the new stadium as a way of saving the Boise Hawks and welcoming minor league soccer to the valley.
"I think the frustration is that a small minority of people have been able to frustrate thousands of kids," said Bill Taylor, president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association.
Building a new sports stadium in the Treasure Valley is still a major priority to some Boise leaders.
"The urgency about keeping professional baseball in Boise is very urgent to us," said Bill Connors, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce President.
However, there's still many in Boise that don't want any public funds involved with a new stadium.
"It’s a matter of tax dollars and it’s a matter of where they're best spent," said Gary Michael, former CEO of Albertsons and co-chair of Concerned Boise Taxpayers.
It's a complicated issue that involves sports organizations, local government, tax watchdog groups, and Major League Baseball's new plans for minor league baseball.
It starts with Major League Baseball's desire to eliminate 42 minor league teams in the next two years to consolidate the minor league system. They believe 25% of all current minor league facilities are below the standards needed for minor league prospects. Baseball experts say the Hawks' Memorial Stadium falls into that category.
"If you think about what Major League Baseball is trying to do," said Connors. "They are thinking about taking this league, the Northwest League, elevating it to Double-A, and I can tell you right now that stadium will not conform to AA standards. It barely conforms to low-A."
It was March of 2017 that the owners of the Boise Hawks, Agon Sports and Entertainment, proposed building a $42 million stadium complex in the capital city. Complete with residential, retail, and restaurants. The stadium would include the functionality that would accommodate baseball, soccer, and concerts.
Since then, for a variety of reasons, three different purchased sites around the city have not produced a green light. And now, three years later, the stadium issue is on life support.
One of the reasons is opposition from a group called Concerned Boise Taxpayers, which opposes using any Greater Boise Auditorium District money for a stadium -- money generated from hotel room taxes.
The auditorium district is legally authorized to build and operate sports stadiums to promote growth and economic development and has been widely reported to have at least $15 million in cash on hand to invest in whatever its elected board wants.
But Michael contends that a new sports stadium wouldn't fill any more hotel rooms than they are, saying, "The stadium isn’t going to fill one room so it's a matter of them to decide - someone to decide it's the appropriate use of the funds."
"We're not against the soccer, we're not against the baseball, we're not against the stadium," Michael added. "We don't think it’s appropriate to use public funds for it."
For Connors, the price tag for a stadium shouldn't be an issue for the City of Boise to undertake.
"15 million dollars? That’s a drop in the bucket for what you're looking at about projects that Boise takes on," said Connors.
But that hasn't deterred some of the most ardent Boise stadium proponents from pushing forward.
Former City Council and CCDC member Scot Ludwig is organizing what's known in the judicial world as a writ of mandamus to the Idaho Supreme Court, claiming the wording in the Prop 2 Initiative infringes on the rights of private property owners in Idaho to develop their own property with private money. He, like many, believes it is unconstitutional.
Ludwig said, "I fully support the spirit of the voters' desire to have significant input in the event a stadium project is considered again. As for a potential stadium in Boise, I am confident that project would bring the cultural, sports and economic benefits a city with Boise's vibrancy deserves."
Regardless of what happens with the court battle over the legality of Prop 2, Boise's newest mayor isn't focused on building a new stadium anywhere.
Mayor Lauren McLean said a potential reversal of the initiative will not affect the city's stance on the issue.
"This has been a priority for an old administration for 16 years," McLean said. "It is not the priority of the new administration. I will make sure there are no city dollars spent in the stadium. If the developer has the wherewithal to put together a package and wants to bring an application into the city to determine whether or not it fits within our city there’s no reason to deny him that opportunity."
But, the key to all of this may lie outside the Boise city limits, in Garden City. Specifically, the now-defunct Les Bois Park and all that land next to and behind it, which is all owned by Ada County.
A newly formed Expo Idaho Citizens Advisory Committee was organized to bring together city, business, arts, entertainment, financial and non-profit leaders from around the county to explore the best options for what is widely considered one of the state's most coveted and valuable acreage, which is currently sitting idle.
In the advisory committee's first meeting on what to do with the fairgrounds and Expo Idaho, one of the commissioners floated the idea of completely moving the fairgrounds to Kuna, which would then open up the land for a new stadium.
"This is an opportunity to really envision what this property will look like at its full potential, so we're asking you to dream and dream big," Ada County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kendra Kenyon said. She added that no options are off the table either.
The site the Hawks ownership is said to be highly interested in, and one this committee will take a long serious look at.
"It is on the radar and groups like that who have a stakeholder interest in this property, which they do," said Kenyon. "They have a 50-year lease and will be able to present to this committee so they know that and they are probably teeing up to do that. I think it would be very cool and I think we want people to dream big here because this property is 240 acres and so we can create just about something for everyone."
Proponents of the stadium say a news mixed-used stadium would generate development and growth in the surrounding areas.
Connors said, "Stadiums create economic activity and they create new economic activity that supports it. My preference would be somewhere near the downtown and 'boom' this is pretty near the downtown."
"We're back to the problem of I don't see the county having the money to pay for it so are the owners of the baseball team going to pay for it?" said Michael. "If they do it I have no problem with that."
Then, there's the city of Meridian, which has been a hotbed for soccer that would embrace a minor league franchise, as was demonstrated in June of 2016 when a crowd of over 4,300 showed up at Rocky Mountain High School for an exhibition match between the Portland Timbers T2 and Kansas City.
Agon Sports has purchased a franchise in the United Soccer League and is set to join with a brand new Idaho team if a stadium is built.
Taylor has doubts. "Whatever stadium they build, will not be big enough," he says. "We'll need more. Unfortunately without the stadium and without the pro sports here, it makes it more difficult to get the exposure that our Idaho kids truly deserve."
The combination of the addition of family entertainment and tax revenue that would be generated by another large complex development leaves many to believe the City of Meridian would welcome it.
Reaction to the possibility from the city was simple, "The Mayor and our Community Development Department can report back that the City is not making a play."
But, they may not need to. It could happen without any heavy lifting from the city as Agon explores options in currently undeveloped or underdeveloped areas in the city.
So, that brings us back to the City of Boise and the question many are now asking. With the clock ticking on a potential realignment and contraction of minor league baseball, which could spell the end of the Hawks' run in Idaho without a new park, and the city's reluctance to approve sites targeted by Hawks ownership, we asked Mayor McLean about the possible future of the project.
"Could you see a scenario where the city of Boise says 'okay we're out, we're going to let it become a two-horse race?'" KTVB asked the new mayor.
"My line is no city money," replied McLean.
"Where it works out, whether it’s here, back in the city of Boise, whether it's wherever I just don’t want to lose them from our metro," said Connors.
"If people can be creative and they want it and want to pay for it, God bless them," said Michael.
"With the impact to the kids and the community, job growth, affordable housing and all of things that this was going to bring to the community, I was shocked actually that this didn’t go through," said Taylor. "But we're not giving up, we're not giving up."
With a professional soccer team franchise ready to launch, the Boise Hawks looking to elevate their facility to minor league standards combined with the county looking for an option for its 240 acres of idle land, this is an issue that is bubbling and won't go away quietly.
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