By Jeff Roper | March 18, 2017
Idaho Street, Boise 1987
The wind whips whirls of dust and sand up and down Idaho Street on a gusty cold Saturday in March of 1987. No one walks the sidewalks between Capitol Boulevard and 10th Street. Few customers are in the stores—Brookovers, Roper’s, Hal Davis, The Mode. Restaurants are closed because it is a Saturday. The lunch room on the second floor of The Mode is almost empty at 1 pm. Downtown Boise looks old, dirty, dying.
For years, Boise’s downtown had been slated for redevelopment by the Boise Redevelopment Agency (now Capitol City Development Corporation—CCDC). Zero remodeling had occurred in the stores or restaurants. Several redevelopment ideas had come and gone, but hope for a Nordstrom or an enclosed shopping mall was almost dead. The long-abandoned Eastman Hotel had burned to the ground in January creating a “hole” that would remain for 25 years. In 1987, Boise seemed about as run down and uninviting as a downtown can become.
A Year of Change
In 1988 everything changed. The Boise Redevelopment Agency (BRA) finally settled on a downtown development plan that would be anchored by two large parking garages, both stretching from Idaho to Main Street, in the middle of two adjacent blocks between Capitol Boulevard and 9th Street, and by a new retail building on 8th Street. BRA would build and own the parking garage and solicit bids from a private developer to build a new multi-tenant retail structure that would be connected to one of these garages. This plan involved the demolition of many old buildings in addition to digging-up significant portions of the main streets. Few cities would attempt this feat; it was like ripping a band-aid off.
Two developers submitted plans for the retail building on 8th Street. One of the developers, Janss Corporation of California (former owner of Sun Valley) proposed a one-story building. They stressed their connections with national chain stores proposing a development that would house eight to ten retail tenants.
A neophyte developer, Jim Roper of Burley, had a larger vision. Jim had owned and operated Roper Clothing Company located at 819 Idaho since 1952. That store, along with other excellent retail neighbors, had thrived despite the dilapidated condition of downtown Boise. He believed that several local retailers would love to be in a new, clean, outdoor focused development in the heart of Boise. He worked with architect Neil Hosford and presented the drawing above that depicts a two-story retail building with twenty to twenty-five retail tenants adjacent to the six-story parking garage. Roper and Hosford called this the Capitol Terrace Development.
Roper was awarded the exciting opportunity to develop the retail building in part due to the fact the BRA was keen to the idea of second floor stores and restaurants. In the spring and summer of 1988, downtown Boise was torn apart and rebuilt. The entire block between Capitol Boulevard and 8th and between Idaho and Main was leveled, except for the Egyptian Theater. The parking garage and the retail building were built at the same time.
In the Heart of Boise
The Capitol Terrace parking garage and retail building opened in November 1988. Enclosed parking garages were a foreign concept to Boiseans back in 1988. This new method of parking took time for locals to adopt, the garage sat desolate for months. At the time of opening, less than half of the multi-tenant retail building was occupied. The building’s first occupants included Roper’s, Pro Fit Sports, Hal Davis Jewelers, Idaho Camera, Whipple’s Luggage, Marge’s Ladies Wear, and The Piper Pub & Grill.
Within a years’ time, downtown began to take on its own character; a distinctive culture and vibe unique only to Boise. Contributing factors to this evolution involve the growth of dining options, events, foot traffic. After years of very quiet sidewalks, people began to walk through their downtown. Shopping and walking around became common again, as it had been fifty years earlier.
The terrace outside the Piper Pub’s second floor became a popular location. Jim Roper’s vision of a vibrant second floor, made possible by outdoor escalators and terrace seating, seemed prophetic. People discovered the joy of dining and socializing outside in downtown Boise. The number of restaurants and bars began to open rapidly along Main and 8th Street creating a fun atmosphere and a lively night scene.
Events such as Alive After Five, the Farmer’s Market, and First Thursday made their mark on the community. These events began attracting larger and larger crowds over the years. With the completion of the Boise Convention Center, the Grove and 8th Street became happening places throughout the summer. Over a few years following 1988, Boiseans increasingly decided that they liked going downtown for shopping and entertainment—this change was and is the key to downtown growth, and Capitol Terrace played a significant role in catalyzing this change.
Capital Terrace Today
By 1994, Capitol Terrace was over 92% occupied and has remained so until today. Retailers like K. Pearsons and World Cycle and restaurants like the acclaimed Shige’s Japanese Cuisine thrived in this “heart of Boise” location. Even through the downturn of 2008-2009, when retail vacancy increased throughout the Treasure Valley, Capitol Terrace remained nearly fully occupied.
Almost 30 years after opening, Capitol Terrace is still the heart of one of the most lively and energetic downtowns in the country. Shiny new buildings now surround Capitol Terrace, the “hole” is a distant memory, but the life blood of downtown Boise continues to be scores of well run shops and restaurants.
A Vision for the Future
Jeff Roper, and the late Jim Roper, retained ownership and management of Capitol Terrace until early in 2017, when local developer Gary Hawkins, Hawkins Companies, stepped forward to take this building to the next level. Capitol Terrace was built to accommodate an upward expansion of several stories (another of Jim Roper’s dreams). Someday apartments may rise above the second-floor roof, making Capitol Terrace even more vibrant and successful. In 2017, downtown Boise is booming like it never has before—and Capitol Terrace continues to be the anchor, the heart of this growth.
ABOUT THE AUHOR
Jeff Roper is the son of the Capitol Terrace developer, Jim Roper. He is a retired high school English teacher who is passionate about small business. Jeff currently resides in Burley.