BOISE — A Capital City Development Corporation official was invited to city hall to meet with the possible developer of the tank farm site on the Boise Bench five months before the district was deemed eligible for urban renewal.
In January, CCDC Senior Project Manager Doug Woodruff went to city hall to meet with city staff and developer Tommy Ahlquist about the redevelopment of the roughly 50-acre tank farm on Curtis Road. CCDC is Boise’s urban renewal agency.
“I have been invited to meet with City staff and Tommy Ahlquist tomorrow at 1 p.m. to discuss the tank farm project, City planning and public engagement of the area and creating a central bench district,” the Jan. 8 email from Woodruff to CCDC’s Executive Director John Brunelle said.
The urban renewal statute has a clause prohibiting the planning of projects before a district is officially found to be “deteriorating” in a study and the results of this study are accepted by the area’s city council. Boise City Council accepted the results of the study of the Central Bench district in May.
“An urban renewal project for an urban renewal area shall not be planned or initiated unless the local governing body has, by resolution, determined such area to be a deteriorated area or a deteriorating area or a combination thereof and designated such area as appropriate for an urban renewal project,” state code says.
When asked about the meeting, city spokesman Mike Journee said an urban renewal district was not discussed with Ahlquist. The only topic of discussion was the tank farm project itself, which has been an ongoing project in the past several years.
“I think that email is wrong,” Journee said. “That’s not correct. The conversation was around the tank farm and the urban renewal conversation did not happen there.”
When Brunelle was asked about the meeting, he said Woodruff said it was an “unremarkable meeting” and the agency was not involved in any other conversations with developers while planning for the district.
“I don’t believe that the agency was included with conversations other than the one back in January,” he said. “I can’t think of any other meetings with any other developers that occurred related to that. Looking ahead, we’ll be engaging with the property owners with those commercial corridors to get their input on what they would like to see happen.”
This is not the first time the city has talked with developers prior to creating an urban renewal district. Boise signed an agreement with Salt Lake City-based developer The Boyer Company related to a large parcel in south Boise in the Gateway East urban renewal district created at the beginning of 2019 to development an industrial park. Part of the original contract promised the city would take “necessary steps” to establish an urban renewal district in the area at the end of 2017, long before the eligibility study determined the area was legally suitable for urban renewal.
Journee defended this contract in August because the area has been discussed for urban renewal since the early 2000s. He also said there was a clause in the contract that said if an urban renewal district did not form, the 2017 agreement with Boyer was still binding.
“Conversation had been had about a district in that area for a long time,” Journee said earlier this summer, “and ultimately we hoped we could get a district in that area. And as a result of that, when the Boyer conversations did happen, we were able to talk about (a district).”
CENTRAL BENCH DISTRICT
An urban renewal district on the Central Bench, where the tank farm is, has been in the works for awhile, with officials both at the city and CCDC saying the economic development tool could help revitalize commercial corridors in the area. The tank farm, which currently is the ending point for all petroleum to the Treasure Valley that is piped from Salt Lake City, is owned by a few gas companies. The site was initially built outside of the city center, but now that the city has grown around it, officials say the heavy industrial use should be relocated, if possible, near the airport.
The relocation of the tanks would make way for area to become a dense, multiuse development, due to its location near downtown, major public transit hubs, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and the Greenbelt. It would also move the petroleum supply closer to the airport, instead of having it be trucked there from the Bench even though the pipeline from SLC passes directly next to the airfield.
A few years ago Boise talked with fuel facilities consultant John Armbrust about moving the tank farm, according to Journee. He connected the city with Washington, D.C.-based development firm, called The Carlyle Group, that was possibly interested in taking on the project. As part of the company’s interest in the project, Boise gave a list of potential developers to the company to work with in June 2018. The Carlyle Group selected Ahlquist’s company, Ball Ventures Ahlquist, who then put together a plan for the site.
The Carlyle Group is no longer involved in the project, but Ahlquist has developed a plan for the site, as first reported by BoiseDev.com earlier this month. The project, which is tentatively called “Curtis Junction,” includes a mix of shopping, multifamily housing, and restaurants, with the goal of being walkable and bikeable.
Ahlquist said his role was to create a vision for the area if the tank farm is relocated.
“My interest is very high because this is a transformational type of project,” he told the Idaho Press. “Anytime you can take something that is a heavy kind of use and turn it into a high-density, mixed-used project that is walkable, that is already surrounded by lots of great uses, that would be great for the neighboring community.”
One issue complicating the tank farm relocation is the change of ownership in the area. Journee said in the time since these talks began, the ownership of the area shifted from Tesoro Logistics, to another owner, and then was sold again to Marathon.
“The original group we were talking with about this is two owners back. … Between the equity firm stepping back, and now we have new owners of the tank farm, we’re basically back at square one around the conversations around this,” Journee said.
Although the project has an indefinite timeline, Central Bench Neighborhood Association President Randy Johnson said redevelopment of the tank farm was part of the neighborhood’s recently completed neighborhood plan, and he is excited about the possibility.
“...We believe this is a positive for the neighborhood,” he said. “It could add some affordable housing to our area and clean up something that is an eyesore and potentially a public safety hazard.”