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Bill That Could Force Referendum on Boise Ballpark Funding Signed into Law

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Idaho governor Brad Law has signed a bill that could potentially force a referendum on funding for a proposed Boise Hawks (Short Season A; Northwest League) ballpark, but exactly how it affects the plan is unclear. 

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.

Urban renewal money–funding generated through new property tax revenue within a designated urban renewal district—has been viewed as a possible funding source for a new ballpark. However, its possible use could be complicated by a bill at the state level that will soon become law, as the legislation effectively makes it more difficult to tap into that funding source without voter approval via referendum. The bill had been opposed by some Boise officials, but Law’s signature puts it on the path to take effect on July 1. More from the Idaho Press:

Under the legislation, if the combination of urban renewal dollars and other public funds makes up more than 51 percent of a project cost, it will have to receive 60 percent voter approval before moving forward. The amended version also requires there be a minimum of $1 million urban renewal funds used to trigger a vote.

The bill was sponsored by Reps. Mike Moyle of Star, Robert Anderst and Rick Youngblood of Nampa, and Sen. Dan Johnson of Lewiston. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, proposed the adopted amendments….

The city of Boise and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce have repeatedly pushed back against the legislation, which they said was introduced as a stumbling block put in place by legislators who don’t want to see the completion of Boise’s proposed main library project or a public-private partnership to build a sports stadium.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter condemned the legislation Tuesday, saying it would make large urban renewal projects “unlikely to happen” from now on.

Although the legislation is set to become law in July, exactly if and how it could affect the push for a new ballpark is still unclear. The funding model for the ballpark has not been pinned down, and the timing of when some firm details on the proposal will take shape remains to be seen.

It should be noted that the ballpark is not the only proposal that the legislation could affect, as it is also expected to create a hurdle for plans for a new library. At this point, however, local officials are unsure how the law will affect the ballpark and the library proposals. More from the Idaho Press:

When asked if city legal staff would be making a determination, when a possible election would be held or if the city is considering accelerating the timeline on the project to beat the June 30 deadline before the law takes effect, city spokesman Mike Journee said he did not know.

“Unfortunately, at this point, those are all unanswerable questions,” Journee said in an email. “I hope that this will change sooner than later, but I don’t have a timeframe for when. Sorry.”

[Capital City Development Corporation] Executive Director John Brunelle gave a similar answer Wednesday.

“We’re reviewing and analyzing the new rules and will abide by them,” he said.

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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