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Surprise, surprise: Boise proposes expanding the West Side Urban Renewal District

Surprise, surprise: Boise proposes expanding the West Side Urban Renewal District

Matt Tobeck
November 17, 2020
November 17, 2020

For those who missed last Tuesday’s Boise City Council meeting, Capital City Development Corporation, Boise's urban renewal agency, is at it again. It proposed an amendment to the Westside Downtown Urban Renewal District which would add 14.1 acres to the district’s original 143.4 acres.

If amended, this addition would grow the district’s geographic footprint just under 10% to 157.5 acres. Not coincidentally, urban renewal districts can only be amended to grow 10% in size. Therefore, this addition, if passed, would just about be the maximum statutorily permitted in the district. 

The acquisition would include separate sections north of State Street from 13th to 8th Street. Those sections would include the State Street YMCA, Boise High School, the Boise Track and Field east of Boise High School, the city block between 8th street and 9th Street north of State Street, and a few buildings on the east side of 8th Street just north of Washington Street.

The requested expansion was the first reading before the city council of the ordinance which would amend the district. It comes roughly a year and a half after the city council approved a resolution to adopt an eligibility study for the amendment and directed CCDC to prepare the plan, showing that while bureaucracy might be slow, it normally persists in accomplishing its desired goals.

According to CCDC’s Matt Edmond, “This is a small but important geographical adjustment to the existing Westside Downtown Urban Renewal District to enable CCDC to assist the city and other stakeholders in implementing some important mobility infrastructure and other potential improvements. The amendment allows CCDC to assist with two bicycle mobility projects as well as a historic preservation project and potential reinvestment in important community services.”

As witnessed in Edmond’s statement above, Boise is creating urban renewal districts, utilizing Idaho’s urban renewal law, to “assist” with basically whatever project city planners dream up, regardless of whether those areas are actually in need of renewal. While projects such as bicycle mobility and historic preservation may well be noble projects for the city to undertake, they don’t have to do with renewing actually distressed areas. 

In addition to undertaking causes not having to do with urban renewal, cities normally find little resistance from businesses in the proposed urban renewal area due to the financial structure that funds urban renewal projects. This is because utilizing Tax Increment Financing, a city’s tax revenues are funneled in greater proportions to the areas being propositioned for urban renewal. 

Such a financial structure, where businesses willingly cooperates with government officials who are promising favored tax treatment represents crony capitalism at its finest.

The loser with urban renewal projects is the city taxpayer. In short, the increased share of revenue for select participating businesses necessarily deprives other parts of the city of revenue—as city councils, and others, end up with increased discretion to spend taxpayer revenues in whatever way they personally fancy. 

With urban renewal projects being so widely utilized by Boise, it shouldn’t be any wonder why resident’s taxes are increasing so much year over year: The City of Boise is using taxes that would otherwise exist as sources for general tax revenue to pay for its seemingly insatiable appetite to create endless urban renewal projects, as well as to create additional urban renewal districts. If Boiseans want a fairer tax system and lower taxes, ridding Boise of urban renewal would certainly be a good start. 

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