Fixer-up­pers pose chal­lenges in down­town Nampa re­vival

The Idaho Statesman - - Front Page - BY KATE TALERICO kta­[email protected]­hostates­man.com

own­ers in down­town Nampa laud the area for its his­toric build­ings. The hun­dredyear-old struc­tures are a source of pride, of small-town charm — and, own­ers ad­mit, plenty of headaches.

As much as the word “his­toric” means or­na­mented cor­nices and Ro­manesque arches, it also means crum­bling fa­cades and un­re­li­able sprin­kler sys­tems. Or, as Kris Wear has dis­cov­ered in the build­ing she bought in 2015, it can mean as­bestos-cov­ered walls that don’t clean up cheaply.

Nampa has tried to cap­i­tal­ize on his­toric charm to at­tract busi­nesses to va­cant store­fronts, but its suc­cess has been mixed.

“It’s sort of a Catch 22,” said Coun­cil­man Rick Ho­gaboam. “The poorer the state of a prop­erty be­comes, the more ex­pen­sive it is to re­de­velop.”

Still, that hasn’t stopped some am­bi­tious first-time Nampa prop­erty own­ers from try­ing.

This year, Alvin Mullins bought the 114-year-old build­ing at 1215 First St. South. Fol­low­ing about $1.5 mil­lion in ren­o­va­tions, a new brew­ery and taco joint will move in.

Nearby, the owner of Rolling H Cy­cles, Adam Haynes, bought the for­mer Whiskey River bar at 1314 First St. South and will move his busi­ness there in 2019. Nampa de­vel­oper Mike Mus­sell this sum­mer opened the doors to ren­o­va­tions on the old Nampa li­brary, which now holds the Nampa Cham­ber of ComBusi­ness

merce and the One11 Press cof­fee store. And Be­cause In­ter­na­tional, a Nampa non­profit, just pur­chased the Yes­ter­year Shoppe book­store build­ing at 1211 First Street S.

Wear re­lo­cated her nutri­tion store, World of Nutri­tion, down­town from Cald­well Boule­vard in 2015. “Ex­po­sure is much bet­ter out here than peo­ple fly­ing by on the boule­vard,” she said. “Once the va­can­cies go away, the foot traf­fic will be­come even bet­ter.”

FILL­ING STORE­FRONTS

Ask any Nampa busi­ness owner to name con­cerns about down­town, and va­can­cies come up. Each owner can point to a dis­tressed build­ing nearby.

Most of them can name the owner, too. In the eyes of some prop­erty own­ers and city lead­ers, missin­gin-ac­tion own­ers are un­der­min­ing their im­prove­ment ef­forts.

Wear points out the build­ing at 1206 1st St. South, owned by Terry Ay­ers, who lives in Nampa. On his build­ing, tiles crum­ble off the fa­cade above the awning. Ply­wood meant to board up win­dows on the sec­ond floor has fallen out. The ceil­ing is cav­ing in. There are few signs that just a few years ago, this was the for­mer home of an an­tique shop.

And now? “That build­ing needs to be con­demned,” Wear said.

Ay­ers told the States­man that his build­ing has been va­cant for nearly a year since an­tique busi­ness there stopped pay­ing rent. Then a sprin­kler leak dam­aged the ceil­ing, and he’s re­ly­ing on a claim from his in­sur­ance to fix it.

“I’m do­ing my best to make down­town the best, but it’s very ex­pen­sive to own prop­erty down­town,” he said.

Mean­while, the prop­erty sits va­cant. In Nampa, the re­tail va­cancy rate is 3.1 per­cent, about dou­ble the rate of Boise.

Wear also pointed to Dar­rell Kam­mer, a Nampa doc­tor who owns seven parcels down­town, in­clud­ing a park­ing lot on First Street and the for­mer home of the Des­ti­na­tion 112 event cen­ter on 13th Street. Wear said Kam­mer has strug­gled to re­tain long-term ten­ants there. The event cen­ter closed in June. Kam­mer did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple mes­sages left at his of­fice.

Oth­ers are frus­trated with own­ers who re­side out of the state. Haynes rents a build­ing owned by the fam­ily trust of Joe Neff — head of the Neff head­wear brand based in Irvine, Cal­i­for­nia. Haynes also bought his build­ing from Neff, and he said it took months to co­or­di­nate the sale. While the build­ing is new to Haynes, it’s an­other of the block’s ag­ing prop­er­ties. Haynes said he an­tic­i­pates ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions.

“The chal­lenge is that you have prop­erty owned by some big-busi­ness own­ers who can af­ford to sit on their prop­erty,” Ho­gaboam said.

Some down­town busi­ness own­ers won­der whether prop­erty own­ers are de­lib­er­ately wait­ing for oth­ers to make the first rein­vest­ments down­town and wait­ing for prop­erty val­ues to in­crease so they can sell at a profitable price.

Ay­ers said he doesn’t plan to sell his build­ing, and the va­cancy shouldn’t im­ply that he doesn’t care. “There’s noth­ing that gets my heart beat­ing more than see­ing peo­ple walk around down­town,” he said.

But he noted that down­town’s prob­lems fall on both tran­sient busi­nesses and prop­erty own­ers. “It’s a huge dilemma: How do you put up some money to make it in­cred­i­ble, to get some busi­nesses here that ac­tu­ally will be sus­tain­able?”

IM­PROVE­MENT DISTRICT HITS BUMPS

The com­bi­na­tion of ab­sen­tee own­ers and va­cant store­fronts has strained Nampa’s Busi­ness Im­prove­ment District, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that puts on events and has headed beau­ti­fi­ca­tion ef­forts. Un­der a 1985 or­di­nance, down­town busi­nesses are as­sessed an­nu­ally at 6.6 cents per square foot. They pay a min­i­mum of $220. When there is no busi­ness in­side, prop­erty own­ers pay at a half rate.

Mor­gan Trea­sure has spent much of her three years as the BID’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at­tempt­ing to con­tact prop­erty own­ers and busi­nesses to col­lect over­due pay­ments.

“There were a lot of ques­tions around who’s re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing, who’s re­spon­si­ble for no­ti­fy­ing,” she said.

That has put the district’s sur­vival at risk, she said.

Wear, who re­cently ended her term, said the group must find a way to re­struc­ture so va­cant prop­er­ties don’t get a break on as­sess­ment or find more ten­ants to rent empty stores.

“The city needs to put pres­sure on prop­erty own­ers to take care of their build­ings,” Wear said. “The ques­tion is, how do you do that?”

Ho­gaboam, who is in his first year on the coun­cil, has some ideas. He doesn’t want to pun­ish own­ers for fail­ing to find ten­ants, as some cities have done by charg­ing va­cancy fees, but rather would see pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment. For ex­am­ple, the city could of­fer an owner-oc­cu­pancy tax re­duc­tion to en­cour­age busi­nesses to own the prop­er­ties they op­er­ate in. Or it might tem­po­rar­ily freeze any in­crease on prop­erty as­sess­ments for busi­nesses that do ren­o­vate their build­ings, so own­ers aren’t scared by the pos­si­bil­ity of a tax hike. He also sug­gested greater le­niency on code en­force­ment for older build­ings so ren­o­va­tions don’t be­come pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive.

Own­ers who have con­verted dis­tressed prop­er­ties sig­nal a way for­ward. When Heather and Ryan Driscoll moved into 1214 First Street to open PreFunk Beer Bar, they had to make se­ri­ous im­prove­ments to their space. “The build­ing was pretty ne­glected,” Heather said.

But the owner, Michael McQueen, has since ren­o­vated the build­ing, adding new car­pets and paint. Mes­sen­ger Pizza also oc­cu­pies it. Haynes and Wear point to places such as PreFunk and Mes­sen­ger as cat­a­lysts for growth.

A VISION FOR DOWN­TOWN

For Mayor Deb­bie Kling, the small-busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment down­town con­trib­utes to the city’s qual­ity of life.

“The down­town is a liv­ing room.” she said. “It’s a gath­er­ing place for the com­mu­nity.”

Kling cam­paigned on a prom­ise to fo­cus on down­town. She has worked along­side the busi­ness im­prove­ment district and the Idaho Depart­ment of Com­merce to dis­cuss what the fu­ture will look like as the city grows to 100,000 peo­ple.

“Peo­ple are say­ing they want a fam­ily-friendly down­town,” Kling said. “So, what kind of busi­ness mix do you have in your down­town that sup­ports that?

Now that Kling’s con­ver­sa­tions have led to a cen­tral down­town goal — to cre­ate more fam­ily ameni­ties — she said she will start work­ing on pol­icy to get there.

The city’s most re­cent re­vi­tal­iza­tion ef­forts have taken shape through its down­town ur­ban re­newal district, but cer­tain uses of its funds were met with crit­i­cism. Some said Nampa’s use of district money to build a new pub­lic safety com­plex and li­brary vi­o­lated the spirit of ur­ban re­newal by build­ing gov­ern­ment build­ings.

In the wake of that con­tro­versy, the Leg­is­la­ture in 2016 placed new lim­i­ta­tions on ur­ban re­newal dis­tricts that lim­ited their spend­ing on pub­lic build­ings, the Idaho Press re­ported.

Even af­ter a sum­mer of con­struc­tion that saw three busi­nesses close, Wear says spe­cialty, ser­vice-ori­ented re­tail­ers, like her nutri­tion store, have what it takes to sur­vive down­town. “You have to give peo­ple a rea­son to come in, whether it’s knowl­edge or ser­vice,” she says.

Ho­gaboam pre­dicts down­town could turn into a food district, with smaller home-grown res­tau­rants. He praises Mullins’ ren­o­va­tion of the build­ing that will house the tacoand-tequila restau­rant, to be called Mesa, and Mullins’ own 2C Brew­ery.

“When you see some­one go all in, it in­stills pride in the com­mu­nity,” he said. “It in­spires oth­ers to see the vision and to in­vest.”

KATHER­INE JONES [email protected]­hostates­man.com

Heather and Ryan Driscoll (and Bialy) have run PreFunk in down­town Nampa for four years.

KATHER­INE JONES [email protected]­hostates­man.com

Mesa, a taco restau­rant and tequila bar, is ex­pected to open in Jan­uary in the Dewey Scales build­ing at 1215 First St. South. Alvin Mullins, a lo­cal res­i­dent, is in­vest­ing $1.5 mil­lion to buy and ren­o­vate the two-story build­ing. He plans to open his own brew­ery along­side Mesa in March.

KATHER­INE JONES [email protected]­hostates­man.com

His­toric build­ings may be charm­ing, but they need main­te­nance. The Yes­ter­year Shoppe book­store has had a go­ing-out-of-busi­ness sale since spring 2017. Its build­ing has just been sold to Be­cause In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit that plans to ren­o­vate it. The horse mu­ral on its side is de­cay­ing.

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