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An aerial view of the Expo Idaho site in Ada County.
An aerial view of the Expo Idaho site in Ada County.
ADA COUNTY — Urban Land Institute, the consultant Ada County hired to study Expo Idaho, this week released its final report on potential projects to revamp the fairgrounds.
The 250-acre property, home to the Western Idaho Fair grounds, the Boise Hawks’ baseball stadium and other features, has been targeted for redevelopment in recent years. After a 60-acre horse racing track on the unincorporated Ada County property closed, the county hired Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit consultant, to study the area and identify upgrades.
In June, the nonprofit hosted a panel discussion on Expo Idaho, and on Tuesday it released the final report on the panel. It lays out a phased approach to redevelopment options and cost estimates for each potential project, funded by a combination of public and private money — all of which should be guided by a master plan.
“The successful redevelopment of Expo Idaho offers a once-in-a-generation chance to build a legacy for the community,” the report concludes. “To redevelop the site in a manner that serves the Expo Idaho mission year-round, the panel recommends the (Ada County) Board of Commissioners implement a thoughtful, phased plan and corresponding governance structure. These steps will ensure that Expo Idaho can thrive for future generations of Idahoans.”
The report details three potential development “directions,” first identified by the Expo Idaho Citizens Advisory Committee. Those include updating fairground facilities and creating outdoor education and agricultural heritage areas; building a new sports stadium and events venue supported by retail and recreation amenities; and a town center-style mixed-use development with housing and retail. Each would cost between $80 million and $200 million.
The report also recommends establishing a long-term oversight entity to maintain a consistent vision amid county leadership changes. Currently, the Ada County Board of Commissioners oversees the site.
To read the full report, visit bit.ly/3dymkgr.
The Urban Land Institute report — for which Ada County paid $5,000 — is one of a number of sources Ada County will consult on the future of Expo Idaho, said Elizabeth Duncan, Ada County’s communication manager.
Ada County earlier this year conducted a survey, primarily of county residents, asking locals for their view on potential upgrades. Of the nearly 6,000 responses, 87% said the Western Idaho Fair and event venue should remain. As for amenities, including possible additions, respondents identified as priorities open space and an expansion of the Greenbelt. Other preferences included a stadium, agricultural heritage park and a parking structure.
Duncan said the property “is a vibrant fixture in our community with enormous potential.”
“The board will be meeting in the months ahead to discuss next steps as the county moves forward with plans to enhance that property,” she said by email. “One thing is for certain — the Western Idaho Fair isn’t going anywhere. Our survey along with community responses shows just how incredibly fond people are of having the fair in that location.”
Bob Batista, director of Expo Idaho, said the redevelopment process is going to be “multi-generational,” due to the size and the number of people involved. He noted that Expo Idaho operates on enterprise funding, meaning, “We don’t have any tax-dollar support, so what we make is what we can spend, and what we save is what we can fix or replace or build.”
A new stadium would cost about $50 million, according to the report. That would take some “creative financing,” Batista said. The $50 million estimate is similar to the construction cost of Reno’s Greater Nevada Field, home to the Reno Aces, a Triple-A Minor League Baseball team. After the Boise Hawks last year lost its Single-A status, a new stadium could reignite an affiliation with Major League Baseball, the report says.
The first step in redeveloping Expo Idaho has already been identified. In October, county commissioners voted to relocate Lady Bird Park, from Chinden Boulevard to a new location along the Boise River, BoiseDev reported. While the move was recommended by the Urban Land Institute report, those plans were already in motion prior to the June panel discussion.
“I think it’s really critical that we get the first step right,” Batista said.
Meanwhile, Batista said he’s pushing for a master plan to guide the redevelopment of Expo Idaho. Leaders today won’t be around to manage every phase of the project, he said.
“Master plans are living, breathing documents,” Batista said. “You have one, and then if things change, you can adjust it. But you can’t adjust something if you don’t have something to begin with.”
Ryan Suppe is the Boise City Hall and Treasure Valley business reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-344-2055 (ext. 3038). Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.
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