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Eye on Boise: Zions offices would complete Boise core

BOISE – It’s big news for Boise that Zions Bank is planning new headquarters at the corner of Eighth and Main streets downtown. That’s the site of the infamous Boise hole, where the historic Eastman Building stood until it burned to the ground in 1987, just as it was poised for renovation.

Now, a 15-story office tower is proposed for the site, including two floors of retail and restaurants with a second-story plaza and balcony along Eighth; three floors of parking that connect to the Eastman parking garage next door; and an onsite health club.

The site has been the subject of various lavish proposals since the destructive fire on that icy night 24 years ago, but none have come to fruition.

If this one does, it would fill in the final hole in the original redevelopment plan for downtown Boise, which at first envisioned leveling an eight-block swath of the downtown core – including its original Chinatown – for a never-built indoor mall. That demolition got halfway done, resulting in decades of bare gravel parking lots and city-politics gridlock before the plans shifted to a mix of office and retail that saved remaining historic buildings. The Eastman Building was the last historic building targeted for demolition, after the entire four blocks south of it were leveled, but the political winds shifted, leaving it standing instead, vacant and awaiting renovation for a decade before its fiery demise.

Now, all but the one remaining corner has filled in, with everything from the Grove Plaza to the distinctive triangular office tower at Ninth and Main to the downtown convention center and Grove Hotel, and – but for the hole – it’s hard to tell downtown Boise ever had its center demolished.

Light fire season

The fire season on Idaho state lands so far this year has seen only 48 percent of the 20-year average number of fires, while the acres burned are only 7 percent of the 20-year average, the Idaho state Land Board heard last week.

That’s the fourth-lowest number of fires recorded in the past 28 years, and the fifth-fewest acres burned.

That was largely because the active fire season was delayed by the cool, wet spring.

Bipartisanship is key

Much attention has focused on the fact that 10 years ago, when Idaho’s first bipartisan redistricting commission settled on a new legislative district plan, one Republican, former state Rep. Dean Haagenson of Coeur d’Alene, joined with three Democratic commissioners in the 4-2 vote.

Less attention has been paid to the other action of the commission on that same date – Aug. 22, 2001 – when it also adopted a congressional redistricting plan. That, too, was a 4-2 vote: There were two Republicans and two Democrats voting in favor, and one Republican and one Democrat voting against. That congressional plan stood up and wasn’t challenged in court.

After the Idaho Supreme Court rejected the first legislative plan, which had a population deviation of 10.69 percent (between the most heavily populated district and the least-populated district), the commission on Jan. 8, 2002, adopted a second plan. This time, Democratic Commissioner Ray Givens of Coeur d’Alene joined with the three Republican commissioners in the majority for a 4-2 vote.

That second plan, however, was overturned by the court for two reasons: impermissibly dividing counties, which the Idaho Constitution forbids, and too high a population deviation, at 11.79 percent.

Finally, on March 9, 2002, the commission adopted a third plan, with a population deviation of 9.71 percent, on a 5-1 vote three Democrats and two Republicans supported it, with only GOP Co-chairwoman Kristi Sellers voting no. That plan was challenged in court, but was upheld.

What this all shows: Idaho’s citizen redistricting commission actually has a history of bipartisan compromise, despite what’s happened so far this year.

New redistricters

Idaho Democrats have named their three new redistricting commissioners:

• Former state Sen. Ron Beitelspacher, of Grangeville, who served in the Idaho Senate from 1980 to 1992, appointed by state party Chairman Larry Grant.

• Former state Rep. Elmer Martinez, of Pocatello, who served in the Idaho House from 2003 to 2006, appointed by Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai.

• Longtime Democratic staffer and activist Shauneen Grange, of Boise, appointed by House Minority Leader John Rusche.

Idaho Republicans have not named their three picks, but said they plan to early this week. Late Friday, the previous commission said it had reached agreement, but it’s been disbanded and it’s unclear what effect that might have on the new commission’s work.

The new redistricting commission is scheduled to convene Wednesday.