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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Downtown Caldwell, NO PLAN ..PLAN, Is Unraveling

THE GUARDIAN attended the first two hours of the downtown Caldwell meeting held last night at the Caldwell Police Station public meeting room. The meeting was a standing room only event. It started off as a well scripted event with the front loading of guests invited by the Mayor and Team Downtown to speak in support of the new city hall project. Things changed in tone once the agenda speakers finished their presentations.

I was able to ask Skip Oppenheimer what was the "tipping point" at which downtown Boise turned the corner. Mr. Oppenheimer gave a brief history of Boise as the "CITY THAT DESTROYED ITSELF". Boise Redevelopment Agency purchased properties downtown and leveled all the old buildings to make way for new stuff. The key part of his answer was the BRA had a plan and stuck to it. Political will and vision made downtown Boise Happen. Again, the key was a PLAN and writedowns on the property were taken to make the sites cheap and appealing to developers.

Caldwell got essentially the same information in the Leland Report of 2006 where Mr.Leland makes a point that the Urban Renewal Agency must buy buildings knock them down and sell the property to private capital developers who could come in and build projects that could compete with the local lease market.

Right now, with the exception of the new city hall project, all downtown Caldwell property is owned by private owners. There is no economic way the numbers will pencil out for private capital development without benefit of the urban renewal agency buying the property and selling it at reduced cost to developers.

TVCC in the new city hall complex drew a quick and pointed challenge from the development community of East Caldwell. A heavily vested group of developers in East Caldwell are so vexed over the move of TVCC from Sky Ranch to downtown they are openly talking about funding the project themselves in or near Sky Ranch Business Park. This move by private development will effectively take the need for TVCC in downtown away from the Mayor and Team Garret's city hall project. It may even kill the project given the cash position of the Urban Renewal agency. Revenue bonding will be a questionable deal as well.

The absence of a plan and the political will to execute the plan was evident at the meeting last night. A concerned citizen in the audience asked where the current city hall is located and the Mayor responded it is downtown. The follow-up question was just what economic activity will a new city hall bring to downtown? Mayor Nancolas launched his response that the buildings were getting some age on them and in need of some updates to heating and air conditioning systems. The Mayor's response was perceived as pretty weak sauce when it got down to brass tacks and a clearly demonstrated need for a new city hall. (Especially when the building at 7th and Cleveland has lots of empty office space right now ready for any future needs for city office space.) $14 Million of taxpayer money seems profligate with tax dollars at this juncture and time of economic uncertainty. It certainly flies n the face of people having to make do with less due to job losses and retirements destroyed by the financial markets.

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