Habitat March 13, 2017

What Suburbs? Downtown Boise Living is Heating Up

When life and work come together

Artist Karen Eastman sees exciting potential in her new downtown Boise condo.

She bought one of three live/work units at The Afton, a new mixed-used development at Eighth and River streets. Her condo will be a gallery at the street level with a one-bedroom living space upstairs. It faces Eighth Street and is across from the Foothills School.

“My vision is to paint in there, bring clients in and maybe host some artists in residence,” she said.

Her condo is in a prime location within Boise’s Cultural District. It’s nestled between another artist’s live/work unit and the building’s corner retail. The Greenbelt, Boise River, the Boise Public Library, the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, and the Boise Art Museum are all within a one-block radius.

And her father, Hal Eastman, bought a sixth-floor unit for a photography studio. She said he, too, will use it as flexible living space for nights on the town, walking to restaurants, coffee shops, The Flicks, Boise Contemporary Theater, JUMP and other amenities within blocks.

Eastman plans to have a father/daughter show in the fall in her workspace, and she’d love to see the area develop into a gallery row someday.

She is excited to be one of the first tenants. The Afton’s first phase includes 28 units and a third-floor, rooftop courtyard that has a fireplace, lawn, dog-walking zone, barbecue deck, and an indoor boardroom/dining room and TV lounge.

“It feels really creative, like a community within a community,” she said.

But The Afton is just one of several condo, townhome and apartment buildings under construction, as demand for downtown living rises among millennials, downtown office workers and empty nesters.

Empty nesters are The Afton’s largest demographic, said developer Mike Hormaechea, whose mixed-use vision won out over several proposals for the location.

The property was a former metal foundry and was considered an eyesore, said John Brunelle, executive director of Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC). Boise’s redevelopment and urban renewal agency owned the property along with an old warehouse across the street.

“It will become an iconic ending to Eighth Street,” he said.

“It was designed with a pedestrian orientation,” said Shellan Rodriquez, CCDC property development manager. She said one of CCDCs goals is to create a more livable, walkable, and bike-friendly downtown.

“Having people live downtown spurs other development,” she said, and will help Boise become more widely known as an “18-hour city.” Such locations are considered more attractive to investors. Cities like Denver, Austin, and Charlotte, North Carolina, are vibrant, sought-after cities whose downtowns don’t go dark when workers leave at 5 p.m.

Portland’s Pearl District is another example of successful mixed-use development that’s in high demand, she said. In fact some people live there and do a reverse commute, Brunelle said, going to jobs in suburbs.

Clearly Boise’s downtown is on its way. One Nineteen, a high-end condo development at 10th and Grove streets was just completed. The Owyhee on Main Street was recently redeveloped from a hotel into 36 apartments that offer live/work arrangements. It includes offices, a fitness center, meeting spaces, retail and the newly opened Owyhee Tavern restaurant.

The Watercooler at 14th and Idaho streets is being developed by LocalConstruct, the same Los Angeles company that did the Owyhee. It will have 37 apartments, seven of which are designed to be live/work units, corner retail and a pocket park.

A few blocks away at 16th and Idaho, David Hale, who developed the Linen District, is building 15 townhomes designed with the flexibility to be live/work spaces.

Coming from Portland, where downtown mixed-use living is in much higher demand, Hale said he tries not to handcuff buyers.

“I’ve always taken a safer approach to bringing live/work to market here,” he said.

“The way I design allows the space on the first floor to be a less intensive work use, so if a buyer doesn’t want it, it can become living space.”

Within the townhomes, his designs include a 300-square-foot open room that one enters, with lots of windows and high ceilings, which is separate from the living space. The units might appeal to a psychologist, attorney or hairstylist since those businesses would entail low traffic and not require much parking.

The demand for more compact downtown living is strong among millennials, Brunelle said. “They’re more interested in experiences, like going out to dinner, and less interested in having lots of stuff.”

That’s one of the reasons the market is so strong for apartments.

Apartment projects underway include The Fowler at Fifth and Broad streets, which will have 159 units with retail on the ground level. It’s also a LocalConstruct project. Nearby at Fifth and Idaho streets, 81 apartments are planned and will include a public park.

Another development is in negotiation for eight apartments at 15th and Front, and the Ash Street Townhomes will have 23 townhomes and eight apartments for rent.

Combined, estimated downtown living projects underway include 423 units with total development costs of $90 million, according to CCDC.

“All of these new downtown residences will change the local microeconomics as more people are living, eating, working and enjoying entertainment downtown,” Brunelle said.

This article appears in the Spring 2017 Issue of Territory Magazine.