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Competing visions for Expo Idaho to be presented Tuesday

An aerial view google earth map of the Expo Idaho area, with a red outline around the former racetrack and grandstand, Turf Cluf building and horse stables. Outside the red line are the main Expo building, fairgrounds, Ladybird Park and parking lots.
Google Earth/Ada County
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An outline of the area of Expo Idaho under consideration for redevelopment

Three companies vying to win the competition for the redesign of Expo Idaho will present their plans to the Ada County Commission at a public meeting Tuesday. The work is the culmination of about three years of brainstorming how the hundreds of acres of land could be best used now that horse racing isn’t returning to Idaho.

A citizen advisory group established in 2020 took the first shot at re-thinking the site. The group, based on public feedback, recommended renovating - but keeping - the fairgrounds and expo buildings, but overhauling the racetrack, stables and turf club areas.

Three main focuses emerged: a sports/events/recreation complex, natural areas featuring outdoor education opportunities and an agricultural heritage center, and a town square-style retail center.

“Build a little Bown Crossing if you will,” said Old Boise building developer Clay Carley, who served on that committee.

Their work wrapped up in early 2021, with three recommendations, each leaning more heavily toward one of the three main focuses.

Ada County then hired Washington D.C.-based consultants Urban Land Institute, which called the site a generational project and encouraged commissioners to "think big."

Ladybird Park at the corner of Chinden and Glenwood, for example, could be moved closer to the river to open that prime location up to development.

The Boise River, though, is a barrier. The current flood plain extends across the existing racetrack and many existing buildings north and east of the main Expo building.

An updated floodplain map being considered could expand to include much of the Western Idaho Fair carnival area and what is now the Turf Club building west into the main parking lot.

New development is discouraged within floodplain boundaries.

Ada County posted a ‘request for qualifications’ in June, asking companies to submit plans for 88 acres of the Expo Idaho site, including only the existing racetrack and grandstand, turf club building and animal stables at the north end of the site along the Greenbelt.

Carley hopes the designs presented incorporate all the main elements the advisory group recommended two years ago.

“In some high measure, they can all be accomplished so I’d be disappointed if any one of them were left out,” he said.

"The design competition is an important milestone in our process and allows us to see firsthand how some of the best design firms in the country envision using the community recommendations to create spaces everyone can enjoy,” the three Ada County Commissioners said in a joint statement.

Competing design firms include RIOS + Stack Rock Group, which designed Boise’s Sue Howell Park, PORT, based in Philadelphia and Chicago but partnered with Meridian’s NV5, and The Land Group, based in Eagle, responsible for The Idaho Youth Ranch and multiple projects at Zoo Boise.

Presentations start at 1 pm. A group of county staff will then recommend one of the designs, and commissioners are expected to vote on that choice on October 11.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News. He's also heard Saturday nights on Boise State Public Radio Music's Jazz Conversations.