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Senate Amends, Passes Bill That Could Force Boise Ballpark Referendum

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After adding amendments, the Idaho Senate passed a bill that could potentially force a referendum on funding for 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 roughly $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.

Idaho lawmakers have been debating a plan concerning referendums and urban renewal money–funding generated through new property tax revenue within a designated urban renewal district—which is expected to be one of the funding sources for a new ballpark. Earlier this month, the state’s House of Representatives approved a bill that would require a referendum on public projects using that funding source. The Idaho Senate’s amendments change the criteria for what would require a referendum, with the Senate’s bill approved in a 20-14 vote Wednesday that sends it back to the House of Representatives. Although some state lawmakers were satisfied with the Senate’s version of the bill, other officials contend that it will hurt economic development. More from the Idaho Statesman:

A public vote would be required if the cost of a municipal building such as a library or a sports stadium — or a major remodel —exceeded $1 million and at least 51 percent of the funding came from urban-renewal money, most of which comes from property taxes, or a combination of urban-renewal money and any other public funding, except federal money.

That’s a change from the original bill that passed the Idaho House. That bill would require a public vote if any urban-renewal money, no matter how little, was spent. It would not have required a vote for spending other, non-urban-renewal funds….

“This is a good bill,” Sen. Jim Rice, R-Nampa, said on the floor of the Senate in urging his colleagues to vote for it. He said it closes a loophole that allowed urban renewal districts to get around a constitutional provision requiring public votes.

But city officials were disappointed. “This is really going to hurt economic development all across the state,” Mike Journee, a spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, told the Idaho Statesman.

The development model being considered in Boise is one that Hawks ownership has implemented elsewhere. Schoen and Jeff Eiseman co-own the Hawks through Agon Sports & Entertainment, and are coming off the opening of 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, including home matches for the prospective USL Championship club that is contingent upon the ballpark’s approval.

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