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College of Western Idaho Gets It Right With Boise Land Deal

Updated on May 18, 2015

A Long Term Vision

Sustainability. It has become a key word in business, education and any endeavor in which long-term success is the key goal. Fortunately, the trustees at the College of Western Idaho have made a creative, responsible and sharp move in that direction.

Until now, college locations in Ada and Canyon County have consisted of leased, shared, and a few owned buildings. According to the Idaho Press Tribune, a new site will enable the college to move from existing leased locations and expand the programs it offers, including general academic transfer programs, business, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We are excited to find a location that supports our student community as well as the businesses seeking a trained and well educated workforce,” said Mary Niland, board president. “From the beginning, CWI has made a promise to our community to offer affordable access to higher education and training. We are keeping that promise through investment in our young people and the future of the western Idaho region.”

College of Western Idaho Trustee Emily Walton
College of Western Idaho Trustee Emily Walton

Location, Location, Location

The location consists of 10 acres at the northwest corner of Whitewater Park Boulevard and Main Street in Boise for a permanent, multistory classroom building with a garage.

The property at 3150 W. Main St. is the site of the former Bob Rice Ford dealership and later the Lithia Ford dealership, the Idaho Statesman reports. Its buildings were demolished two years ago. CWI bought the land for $8.8 million from the Rice Family Trust by a unanimous vote of the school’s trustees Wednesday.

A permanent Boise campus is part of a three-building project the college - six years, six months old - envisions for its Boise and Nampa campuses. In Nampa, school officials want to build a health sciences center and concentrate all health classes from across the Treasure Valley. They also want to build a student center.

Controversy Squashed

Some voices in the community questioned why CWI did not get an appraisal before entering into an agreement on the property.

Mary Niland, CWI Board Chair, responded:

Many appraisals are conducted after the agreement is initially signed as part of the purchase process. Our decision to commission an appraisal now, as part of the due diligence period, is consistent with this common approach. We believe the value we have established under the Agreement will stand up as a fair price. Over the past three years we’ve completed an exhaustive search and compared locations, size, access and cost of land in the Boise area. The property at Main and Whitewater Park Blvd. appears to be the best long-term investment specific to serving our students.” Under the agreement signed by the Rice Family and CWI on April 23, 2015, CWI has 180 days to complete due diligence on the property and can terminate for any reason during the 180-day examination period. In addition, under the agreement CWI can commission surveys, tests, audits, and other reports it deems necessary.

Al Marino, who has 16 years of experience as a commercial real estate broker and works for Thornton Oliver Keller in Boise, blostered this sentiment. He told news outlets that there is more to a property value than its assessment.

“In commercial real estate, the word ‘potential’ is probably as important a word as anything,” Marino said. “What is this particular land, what is its potential and what it its highest and best use?” All of that can inflate market value, he told the Idaho Press Tribune, and an appraisal would also factor in comparable land values.

"Marino also backed up CWI’s assertion that it is normal for a seller to conduct an appraisal after entering into the purchase agreement as part of a due diligence period. [...] “To get an appraisal before you write an offer is rare, but notwithstanding that, what a buyer would prudently do would be to have done their homework and have a pretty good understanding of what they thought market value might be for that property prior to engaging with the seller,” Marino said, which CWI officials have said they did."

Bert Glandon, CWI president, talks about the vision for a Boise campus. (SOURCE: Idaho Statesman)

A Prudent Decision

When asked on Facebook, about the criteria used to determine a reasonable price for the property, trustee Emily Walton answered:

We looked at this and several other properties available that (1.) could be developed into a campus and (2.) were in a comparable location with good access to major roads - this one was right in the price range of the other properties available.

A blog entry on The Blue Review site also counters critics and underscores why the CWI Trustees are correct in their decision with this agreement to purcahse.

As noted in original reports on the subject, Idaho Code dictates CWI was not required to have the land appraised prior to acquisition. And Niland’s right: an independent assessment of the property wouldn’t have mattered as the assessed value of land for tax purposes is a poor proxy for determining the selling price.

Located just west of the newly created Whitewater Park Boulevard, the lot is, according to multiple studies, well positioned for future growth. Blue Review blogger Andrew Crisp says It boasts numerous pluses for a college campus. Close proximity to the Boise River and greenbelt offer multimodal access and aesthetic qualities, while its position squarely within the city’s up-and-coming 30th Street urban renewal zone offers numerous benefits as the area is redeveloped in coming decades. Furthermore, the lot is zoned C-5, allowing for a broad list of uses as in the central business district. Most of the city’s existing C-5 zone is concentrated in downtown.

A Boost For Boise

CWI’s presence will bring thousands of students, faculty and staff members to the area, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said. “They will be living, working, shopping and recreating — spurring a new round-the-clock vibrancy that will help knit together our expanding vision of Downtown’s footprint.”

A permanent home in Ada County also gives the school a better sense of stability and sustainability, an important part of the school’s hope for being accredited, CWI president Bert Glandon told the Idaho Statesman.

It is clear that the wise stewards who run the college have made the best decision to meet their ultimate goal: student success.

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