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Bill That Could Trigger Boise Ballpark Funding Referendum Advances

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The Idaho House of Representatives has approved a bill that would require referendums on public projects using urban renewal money, potentially affecting a proposed Boise Hawks (Short Season A; Northwest League) ballpark. 

Greenstone Properties–where Hawks co-owner Chris Schoen is a partner–is working on a proposal that includes a replacement for the Hawks’ Memorial Stadium, with the effort currently focused on a site on the city’s West End. Under the current plans, the estimated $50-million facility would host the Hawks and a professional soccer club in Division II USL Championship while anchoring a larger development initiative in the surrounding area.

It is expected that urban renewal funding, generated through new property tax revenue within a designated urban renewal district, will serve as a source to help pay for the ballpark. However, state lawmakers have been debating a bill that could put a hurdle before the proposed ballpark and similar projects by requiring a referendum. Urban renewal funds do not presently require voter approval if they account for less than 51 percent of a project’s total cost, but this bill would eliminate that provision. The bill has been met with criticism from some local officials, including Boise mayor David Bieter, but it has moved to the State Senate after the house’s 59-11 vote on Monday. More from the Idaho Statesman:

Bieter said it’s too early to fully know how the bill would affect Boise’s library and stadium projects. But it’s frustrating, he said, to see the urban renewal law being tweaked again and again.

“They’ve amended the urban renewal stuff two times in the last four or five years,” Bieter said. “You learn to work with it and then they change them again. It’s definitely a disruption to business.”

Urban renewal money comes from local property taxes. Currently, a public vote is required if 51 percent or more of a project’s cost is funded with urban renewal money. The spending requires approval from 60 percent of voters. The new bill would lower that to 55 percent, but it would also do away with the 51 percent project-cost threshold and prohibit the use of any urban renewal money without voter approval.

“Ultimately, I think the voter ought to have a say, not a group of unelected individuals spending my property tax dollars,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who introduced the bill.

Schoen and Jeff Eiseman co-own the Hawks through Agon Sports & Entertainment, and are seeking emulating a model they used in building 2018 Ballpark Digest Ballpark of the Year SRP Park for the Augusta GreenJackets (Low A; Sally League). The vision in Boise calls for a new facility to be surrounded by mixed-use development–evoking SRP Park and the surrounding Riverside Village in North Augusta, SC–while being used for multiple types of events in addition to baseball. The USL Championship team, which is contingent upon the ballpark project receiving approval, would obviously serve as a major part of increasing the facility’s event schedule beyond Hawks’ home games.

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