Garden City wants to create a downtown on the Expo Idaho site. Ada County says no way
John Evans, the mayor of Garden City has a vision: One day, the Expo Idaho site at Chinden Boulevard and Glenwood Street will be transformed. The home of the Western Idaho Fair will become the new heart of Garden City, a vibrant urban center next to the Boise River, invented from the ground up — but with a riverside park and more city amenities.
Such a development could be home to office campuses, stores and homes. It would bring the city new tax revenue.
There’s only one problem: Ada County owns Expo Idaho. And county leaders say they’re keeping the 70-acre site. They say the fairgrounds are perfectly placed and just the right size.
Expo Idaho sits on a patch of unincorporated Ada County land, surrounded by the boundaries of Garden City — which is itself surrounded by Boise.
As Garden City grows and gentrifies, the fairgrounds is again a focus.
The site is ideal, Case said, because of its location near the center of the Treasure Valley’s population. The county, he added, is deeply invested in the site. It recently spent $2 million in infrastructure upgrades, including an entrance gate and roadways.
Yet Garden City’s comprehensive plan includes a goal to “create a heart for the city.” It proposes exploring a possible downtown there. That’s something the growing community lacks.
“If someone said, ‘I’ll meet you in downtown Garden City,’ where would you go?” Evans said. “We would love to have what you would call a downtown, an encapsulated business and residential core.
“I don’t think a downtown needs to have a city hall in it” — Garden City’s sits in a complex that includes the Garden City Library next to the river on Glenwood Street — “but the point is, having a place where you would identify a downtown that’s not a strip along a state highway.”
In a perfect world, the mayor said, a single developer would propose to the county commissioners a project that would include a new site for the fair. Garden City would annex the current site.
Several developers have already expressed an interest in the Expo Idaho property, Evans said. Their ideas have included hotels, stores, entertainment and homes.
The Expo Idaho site “is a smart place for new development,” he said: Sewer, water and roads are already in place.
Case counters that the park, and its Hawks Stadium. were built with federal parks money. “In order to do anything, we would have to get approval from the federal government,” he said.
Expo Idaho hosts events throughout the year, and a county enterprise fund fed by event revenue pays for it. “No property taxes are used to pay for the fair or Expo,” Case said. “It’s a benefit to Ada County.”