Time to Get Serious About a New Stadium
The Boise Hawks open their home season tonight. The Northwest League affiliate of the hapless – why does that word fit so well – Chicago Cubs play Salem-Keiser at aging Memorial Stadium. The stadium, near the Ada County Fairgrounds is actually in Garden City, and it is, did I mention this, aging?
I’ll be in my third base box, but I’ll be thinking, as I do every year at this time, about the need for a new, improved venue that could, I believe, accomplish several important objectives for the community. It’s time for Boise to get on with the plan. Here’s a partial list of what a new, multi-purpose stadium could mean for Boise and southwestern Idaho.
- We all know the community – and southwest Idaho – needs some economic development activity. A new, multi-purpose stadium in the right location would be first and foremost an economic development tool.
- Boise needs to take serious steps to secure minor league baseball for the long haul and if the community ever aspires to move up – and why not – to Triple AAA, Memorial Stadium isn’t going to cut it. Some of us can remember the Boise minor league team playing at the old field at Borah High School – you couldn’t get a beer – and the move to the Fairgrounds location was like moving from a sandlot to Yankee Stadium, but now its time to re-think the location, quality and attractiveness of a stadium that could be home to the Hawks, maybe a minor league soccer franchise, local high school sports, concerts and more.
- New, well-conceived stadium projects have shown that they can revitalize a neighborhood that needs a shot in the arm. There are many potential locations and it’s probably too early in the assessment process to focus on any one site, but the City of Boise owns land along the Connector, west of downtown that needs to be seriously evaluated. Goodness knows that neighborhood, now the domain of abandoned auto dealerships and vacant lots, could use us a little love.
I remember a dinner with Mayor-elect Dave Bieter more than six years ago where the subject of a new stadium came up. The mayor has had plenty of priorities over those months, but now seems generally willing to think the multi-purpose stadium idea through. Good. It will take his leadership and the involvement of an enthusiastic community to move this idea forward.
The ownership of the Hawks have played a constructive role in this early discussion and have done some preliminary market analysis. More needs to be done, but it does seem clear that the Hawks could be the prime tenant for a new facility. If this effort is to get to first base and beyond a broad community need will need to be met. In other words, it is more than baseball, as important as I think that must be in the discussion.
Reno made a play for Triple AAA baseball and got it with a new downtown ballpark that anchors a redevelopment effort. Eugene (and the University of Oregon) built a new facility for the venerable Emeralds, a team long in the same league with Boise. Missoula finally got behind a new ballpark – the Beach Boys play there in August – and the Pioneer League Osprey seem sure to stay for a long time. Oklahoma City used the iconic Bricktown Ballpark to further renew an historic area in the heart of downtown. The list goes on and on.
I love Boise and have for the nearly 35 years I’ve been here. The city has so much going for it – great parks, new libraries, the Greenbelt, a nationally prominent college football team, a tremendous arts community with theater, music and more, the Foothills and the Boise River. Now, its time for a great, multi-purpose stadium venue to lock in professional baseball, attract minor league soccer, showcase high school sports and serve as a community venue for concerts and more.
Knowing Boise as I do, I know we’ll have the predictable debate over what role government institutions should play in drafting and pushing a new stadium plan. Here is a fact: these developments just don’t happen without a robust private-public partnership and a vast amount of community involvement.
Boise needs to take the next step and, with the Hawks opening another season tonight, its time to engage a community-wide conversation, make a plan and do something big and important for the city and the region.