City of Boise

Boise outlines vision for replacing Downtown library, adding arts, history & event space

Have you ever been to the downtown Boise Public Library and felt a bit like you were inside an old warehouse?

That's because... you were.

The library branch when it was Salt Lake Hardware Co. Photo courtesy City of Boise

The library branch when it was Salt Lake Hardware Co. Photo courtesy City of Boise

The City of Boise moved library services to the former Salt Lake Hardware Co. warehouse on Capitol Blvd. and Battery St. (now River St.) in 1973.  It replaced Boise's original Carnegie Library on Washington St. and has stood pretty much unchanged for the last 45 years or so.

Now Boise City leaders hope to raise that old warehouse and build a new library, arts and history campus on the site, facing the Boise River.

"We want a facility that connects the community," library director Kevin Booe said. "We want a place where people will come and do lots of different things."

The project, if approved and funded, would completely revamp the current site of the library, with the old hardware warehouse tumbling down, and a new complex rising up in its place.

City and library officials contracted with Safdie architects, which has designed libraries in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canda and Salt Lake City, Utah.  For Boise, the firm has turned in initial designs that are geared toward the Boise River and Greenbelt.

"We want a building that engages with the river," Booe said. "You can't even see the river from the (current) library. This concept faces the river. We would like a space where the indoors and the outdoors merge and it’s almost transparent."

That comes in the form of a large wall oriented south.

"(It features) a glass wall, they call it a lens," City of Boise Capital Projects Manager Shawn Wilson said. "This is (Safdie's) concept of how they are going to interface with the river and the riparian area of the Greenbelt. It provides a place to sit and watch - or sit and read."


The project is envisioned to cost $80-$85 million, and would come from three sources: 

  • $5 million from the City of Boise capital fund
  • $18 million from philanthropic giving, half of which has already been raised
  • $10-$15 million from the Capital City Development Corporation to fund a parking garage
  • The balance would come from the City's bonding facility

The building would be 150,000 square feet, with a 20,000 square foot outdoor plaza.  The building would have three main components:

  • 115,000 square foot library space
  • 22,000 square foot center for arts & history
  • 18,000 square foot event space, with seating for 300-400 people

Retail spaces for a gift shop, cafe and other library and arts-related concepts are also envisioned.

Two rooftop gardens are part of the current plan - one on top of the events space, and another on the arts & history section of the complex.


Library would bulk up, expand

Right now, the Boise Public Library has about 350,000 items in its collection. Booe says he would like to see that grow to the million item mark, similar to cities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Des Moines, Iowa.

That would be accomplished with an automated storage retrieval system - a robot-like device that can snag items from a vault and deliver them in under five minutes.

"We could easily expand the collection size by another 400,000-500,000 items," Booe said

More from Don:
How to solve the local news crisis? Look it up in the library

Arts & History to get dedicated space

The City of Boise Department of Arts & History currently works out of a cramped space inside City Hall.  By moving down the street to the library site, it would be able to do more and give the public more access to its archives and programs.

Arts & History director Teri Schorzman says the Sesqui-shop on Main Street during Boise's sesquicentennial in 2013 was a test run for the concept.

"(The Sesqui-shop) was focused on local art and local history," she said. "That’s the goal for what we do in this space where we can continue that kind of programming."

The space would also provide a dedicated cultural education center, gallery space, the Boise city archives, a conservation lab, and space to maintain the city's growing art collection. It would also house current arts & history staff.

One historic item may go by the wayside, however. The plans currently show The Cabin being removed to make way for the new campus.

"The  Cabin may move," Outreach and Education Coordinator Jennifer Yribar said. "We are working with the Cabin's Executive Director and Board to find a sustainable solution for the organization that will allow the Cabin to maintain  their physical identity with minimal disruption to programs and services."

A new place for events Downtown

The city says its research shows there is a need for an events space in the Downtown core with room for 300-400 patrons. It would contrast with the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts which seats about 2,000 guests and the Egyptian Theater which seats about 760 people.

This "black box" style theater would include a stage, dressing rooms, VIP rooms, concessions, offices, technical areas and more.  It could be used for a variety of community and smaller-scale events and could complement Jack's Urban Meeting Place and facilities at the Boise Centre.

Existing library to be torn down

The old warehouse would be torn down if the current plan is followed. The library wouldn't close however, with two options being discussed.

"We could stay in the current four-story building while the library part of the campus is built," Booe said "then tear down the old building and complete the rest of the project."

Booe said the other idea is to relocate the library to another location downtown temporarily.

"We are looking at an analysis on the cost of that," he said. "Trustees and staff are adamant that the library continues to stay open, even if it is with a diminished service."

CCDC could help fund parking structure

In addition to the library, the parking structure could use funds from the Capital City Development Corporation to provide patrons of the library and other nearby properties parking.

“Our current parking lot is 102 spaces," Booe said. "The biggest complaint we get is, 'you don’t have enough parking.' Like it or not, people drive.  You need between 200-300 parking spaces. So that’s what we are planning to do."

 "That part of town could use a little help in that sense, and that goes beyond the library," City of Boise Director of Communications Mike Journee said, citing events across the street in Julia Davis Park, the new Idaho State Museum and growing activity in the River St. area.

CCDC is working to sell its garage under the Grove Hotel to raise some of the funds needed for the library garage project, as BoiseDev reported this spring.

What happens next

UPDATE: Boise City Council was given an update on the project today during budget workshops  

From there, it will go out to citizens for a series of public workshops. The tentative schedule

  • July 16 - Library! at Bown Crossing
  • July 17 - Library! at Cole & Ustick
  • July 18 - Library! at Collister
  • July 20 - Main Library

Another series is also planned for September after revisions are made based upon feedback collected next month.

"There may be some changes as we go along," Booe said. "We know we are going to have to do a lot of value engineering, and after we go through the concept, feedback with the public - we might have to make some changes based upon public feedback."

That value engineering is important - because the current concepts are estimated to cost well over $100 million.  The plans will have to be downsized to fit in the $80 to $85 million budget.

Officials say the project as it stands now has been molded by public input - including focus groups and design thinking exercises

"This is and was community built," Yribar said. "It’s the culmination of so much community visioning. We are going to council tomorrow to make sure we are going in the right direction to keep going, but really we are going to the public to get their reaction."

If a design can be finalized and funding secured, groundbreaking could happen as early as Fall 2019. If all goes as planned, the new facility could be open as early December 31, 2021. 

Even with a flurry of changes - one thing will stay the same. That famous exclamation point after the word library will continue on (!)

Zoo Boise plans expansion, hopes to further conservation mission

A rendering of a portion of the new Zoo Boise expansion. Courtesy Zoo Boise.

A rendering of a portion of the new Zoo Boise expansion. Courtesy Zoo Boise.

For the first time in more than 35 years, Zoo Boise is expanding its footprint in Boise’s Julia Davis Park - with big plans to revamp portions of the existing facility in the process.

A young zoo visitor feeds animals during a visit this spring. Photo: Don Day/

A young zoo visitor feeds animals during a visit this spring. Photo: Don Day/

The zoo just completed a $9 million capital campaign and is in the process of putting together final plans with hopes of beginning construction in early 2018.

More than just a fresh coat of paint and new exhibits, the expansion is centered on the zoo’s evolving mission to help drive conservation funds and increase education for zoo-goers about the challenges the environment and many species of animals face.

“What we want when you come to the park - is yes, we want you to have a good time.  We also want you to learn about animals and ecosystems and all that,” Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns said. “Unfortunately it’s not enough anymore. The world needs more than that.”

A decade ago, the city-owned zoo added a small conservation fee to gate admission - the first zoo to do so in the country according to Burns.  It also added some upcharge experiences once inside - including the ability to feed the zoo’s giraffes or take a solar-powered boat ride - with those funds also going to conservation efforts. In all, more than $2.3 million has been raised for the effort.

“We have turned the act of visiting the zoo into a conservation action,” Burns said.

Site plan of the new Gorongosa area of the zoo. Click to enlarge.

The expansion will focus on two key conservation partnerships.  The first is the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique - an area ravaged by conflict.

“It was this incredible park that was destroyed in 25 years of war in that country,” Burns said. “In the process, that park was destroyed and pretty much all of the mammals were killed and most of them were eaten by hungry people - hungry soldiers.”

Idaho-born philanthropist Greg Carr has dedicated his life and wealth toward restoring the park.  Carr built a career in the high-tech industry by developing an early voicemail system and serving as chairman of internet service provider Prodigy.  He was born in Idaho Falls - and helped bring Zoo Boise into the effort to restore Gorongosa.

Now the zoo is planning to bring a piece of Gorongosa to Boise. The zoo will bump out into Julia Davis Park and add another 1.5 acres to its footprint on the side of the zoo furthest from the entrance.  The new area will be combined with an area currently used for events like Boo at the Zoo, allowing for the Gorongosa exhibit. New animals like Nile crocodiles, hyenas, baboons, warthogs and nyala will be featured.

Site plan of the new entry area of the zoo. Click to enlarge.

At the front part of the zoo, the current primate house and aviaries will be removed - areas built in the late 1960s.

“They were good exhibits at the time, but we just can’t do anything to bring them up to modern zoological standards,” Burns said.

That space will be reimagined into a new area with visitor amenities and a few new exhibits -- right up front where attendees enter the zoo.

The exhibits here will focus on another conservation project - helping to protect the Annamite Mountains between Vietnam and Laos.  Teams of teens at the zoo have been working for several years on a project to fight poaching in that region.

“By featuring animals from the Annamite Mountains, it gives those teams a larger platform to deliver their conservation message,” Burns said.  The gibbons who currently reside in that portion of the zoo will get new digs in the Annamite Mountains exhibit.

A new event space with a stage, picnic facilities and more will be placed near the entrance to replace the current spot in the back of the zoo.

Right now, the zoo jockeys with the Sun Valley Resort for the title of most-visited paid attraction in the State of Idaho - and is consistently the most-visited spot in the Treasure Valley.

Nearly 350,000 visits were made to the zoo in 2016, and Burns hopes the additions will begin to nudge attendance toward the 400,000 mark.

More visitors will help drive the zoo’s conservation drive even further.

“Visitors have generated about $2.3 million for conservation,” over ten years according to Burns. “We have turned the act of visiting the zoo into a conservation action. We don’t want to build any more exhibits that aren’t tied to our existing conservation projects.”

Beyond the far-flung efforts in Africa and Asia, some of the conservation funds are going to projects close to home.  

“Last year when Table Rock burned, we put $100k in conservation fees toward the restoration,” he said. He hopes that’s the first of many projects.

“People love the foothills. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem where we live is one of the most endangered in the country. We hope to partner with Boise Parks and Recreation on the foothills and open space and get more involved in restoration efforts and habitat efforts.”

Friends of Zoo Boise is one of the 700 causes that is signed up for Idaho Gives 2017. Donors can make a contribution online on May 4th with proceeds going toward the zoo. Throughout the day, random donations will be matched from an award pool. (Disclosure: Day365 which operates BoiseDev is also handling media and PR services for Idaho Gives).

The expansion will further cement Zoo Boise’s spot in the heart of Julia Davis Park - just a short walk from Downtown. The zoo expansion will join a complete revamp of the Idaho Historical Museum, a new walkway connecting the park to 5th Street and other projects.

“Julia Davis Park is a unique park in the city,” Burns said. “It’s the cultural attractions park of Boise. We would hope that if the City continues to grow and our cultural attractions get better, we’re right here in the middle of all that. It’s great to be right downtown - you can see the giraffes sticking their head up over the fence.”

If everything goes well, plans will be presented to the City of Boise’s building and planning folks this fall, with the expansion fully open after a year of construction and four months of theming by summer of 2019.