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Top 50 Stories: 1965-1988 – Boise’s mall saga

June 25, 2014


A string of developers hatched plans to demolish Downtown Boise’s historic buildings and put in a shopping mall.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJune 25, 2014

In the 1970s, Boiseans seriously considered giving up some of the state’s most treasured buildings.

This was not wild or random speculation. Serious, well-funded developers built models and worked with city government to secure approval for projects that would have demolished the Union Block, Alexander Building, Idaho Building, McCarty Building, Fidelity Building and everything else between Bannock, 9th and Grove streets and Capitol Boulevard.

One plan would have saved the fronts of some of those buildings.

“You wouldn’t have the same city by any stretch if any of that had happened,” said Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho, a group that formed in the early 1970s to stop the demolition of Downtown’s historic buildings.

Today, the ’70s push for a Downtown mall is hard to fathom. But in the 1960s and 1970s, people were convinced that indoor shopping was the way of the future. Downtowns were dying. By the turn of the ’80s, Boise’s urban core was all but dead. The Boise Redevelopment Agency, predecessor of today’s Capital City Development Corp., tore down several buildings and appeared bent on leveling more; lost were the Pierce Building, Chinatown and the original City Hall.

If you’d told ’70s Boiseans that Downtown would be one of Boise’s leading attractions in 2014, they would have laughed. Even as local developers presented competing plans for a West Boise mall, most members of city government preferred the Downtown versions.

Some resisted.

“It’s very disappointing that, after 10 years of observing this, we are back to square one, where we are told the only way to save Boise is to tear it down and start over,” Arthur Hart, then-director of the Idaho Historical Society, told the Statesman in 1978.

City Councilman Glenn Selander accused then-Mayor Dick Eardley of “serving as a promoter” for one of the most prominent developers, the Statesman reported.

The Statesman hosted two public forums – attended by more than 1,600 people – on competing Downtown development plans.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the West Boise mall concept gained more traction. In 1983 and 1985, Boise voters changed the city’s leadership by electing people who stopped plans for a Downtown mall in favor of a suburban one. That group included Brent Coles, a councilman and future mayor, and Dirk Kempthorne, the mayor then who would become an Idaho governor and senator, and secretary of the U.S. Interior Department.

By late 1986, construction of Boise Towne Square mall began. A few months later, the Eastman Building on the northwest corner of 8th and Main streets burned. The scar that fire left wasn’t filled until early this year, when Gardner Co., a Utah-based developer, held its grand opening for 8th & Main, Idaho’s tallest building.