Coming in to Urban Boise (Part II)

The 52% of distressed properties in Boise did not provide a sustainable community by any stretch of the imagination, and people were beginning to move around based upon their income, obligatory payments, and preferences. The Art Deco style Banner Bank Building in downtown Boise is an architectural beauty that stands at 11 stories and stretches to meet your imagination.

It was built in 2006 and was judged as a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) rated energy efficient building by the US Green Building Council. What that means is that the water efficiency, energy efficiency, and occupant well-being in this sustainable building, are rated far above the average. The US Bank and Boise Plaza buildings were also rated as Gold LEED buildings, in the category of Silver, Gold, and Platinum ratings. Every building that is proposed around Boise now aims for a similar rating. Each is, or will be, a highly rated “green,” or energy efficient building.

The Banner Building will cost less in the long run to operate, will last longer, provide healthier places to work, are closer to a variety of activities in downtown Boise, and directly to the point, they are making money for their owners. Gary Christensen, Developer and President of the Christensen Corporation, acknowledges that “Green buildings have a shakeout period in which we have to figure out the controls, sensors, and relays and get them working properly.” It turns out that these parts of the building are fairly complicated but they result in an overall cost of 15 -30% less per square foot than other buildings.

The Banner Building rents for $18 – $21 per square foot. When asked whether the building was full in the tough 2012 season, Christensen responded that “when it was initially leased, the businesses were committed to supporting the energy efficiency of the building and now it is 100% full.” It’s hard to define the total cost of a sustainable building because they are complicated to build and operate in the first few years, but in the long run they are less expensive to run than other buildings. Regardless, the Banner Building is full today and the current rate of return is 32%. The upshot is that the amortized cost makes cents for tenants, investors, and building operators.
And it is the kind of place that, I realized in walking through it, I might like to work in. And indeed I do need a job. Moreover, workers in the Banner Building are spoiled with all of the amenities that are provided to them: it is heated by geothermal water, outdoor air is let in for roughly 200 days per year, paints have no Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content, stormwater is used to water outdoor vegetation and flush toilets, the light is produced by energy efficient fluorescent lights or Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and is dimmed when the environment is naturally lit. Due to some of these innovations, the electricity use is reduced by more than 60% and ventilation by 44%. The building provides a healthy habitat in which to work—imagine riding your bicycle to work and getting a workout in a non-toxic environment. The offices are also simple to reconfigure when businesses change—a big advantage for investors. The Banner Bank Building has a stunning design that may provide a blueprint for the future; air inside the building is decisively clean and the space feels like a good place to work.
Rachael Winer, Executive Director of Idaho Smart Growth in Boise, said “that in an office building, employees like a healthy convenient place with lots of daylight where they can get out to lunch, to go for a run in the foothills and have a shower; they want to ride their bikes and have some extra activity…. Things like the Saturday Market add to the downtown experience, I mean, there’s a lot of life here in Boise!” Winer added that most builders want to do the right thing, but they need to make money too. She adds that transportation is also a big concern for most Boiseans. “We need to get a bus system that works for people, busses that come frequently and get people where they need to get,” she said. “That’s what makes a bus system work for people: to be closer to jobs, shops, and schools so that whatever you need is closer to you.” As gas prices continue to rise and people need to travel between jobs, home, and school, more and more people will take the bus.
All of these concerns, the price of houses, the need to provide jobs for people, the need to provide transportation to and from work to home, building better houses and nicer business places to work, and finding amenities close to our hearts are all in the complicated mix that will make Boise a more perfect place to live. As natural gas, gasoline, oil, heat, food, and electricity prices increase, and surely they will, the more that we’ll be forced together to negotiate, collaborate, and cooperate to create a sense of place that all can accept. We might create hamlets within the City of Boise, like Hyde Park, where like-minded people can congregate. Another possibility that is being planned at the former downtown Macy’s building is to transform the 2nd to 5th floors of the building into apartments for the general workforce. That sounded good to me! Regardless, nothing will last long if we don’t come to tentative understandings about the fundamental things in life—our income, warmth, shelter, food for our family, and caring–that all of us require.
Yesterday I took a hard bike ride up to the top of Tablerock Mesa and as I looked out on the city of Boise that spread out below me. I wondered exactly what had happened over the past 30 years. Has this world become a better place to live? It is a pretty place, with all of the trees, with bike paths crisscrossing below, the river running through the city, and the Owyhee Mountains standing out in the distance. There are more options now and just about every time I pick up a magazine I read about the beauties of Boise. My life is good here and after thirty years of rambling around I’ve finally got a place that I call home.

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