Boise offers perfect mix for development

Just six years ago, Mike Brown and Casey Lynch founded LocalConstruct, the duo’s Los Angeles-based real estate development company, with an eye toward constructing buildings in context with their urban surroundings.

Three years ago, they began investing in the Boise market. For Lynch, who grew up in Idaho, the City of Trees offers opportunities free from many of the constraints found in other markets.

Photo credit: Laure Joliet

“It’s the perfect combination of strong economic fundamentals and opportunity for people who are innovative, creative, younger, however you want to put it,” said Lynch. “The city is very progressive, politically and otherwise. There is a lot of support for people who are willing to be innovative, whether it’s for us or other industries.”

This summer LocalConstruct made what was arguably their biggest splash in the Boise market after successfully reinvigorating a major landmark. This summer the company unveiled the former Owyhee Plaza Hotel as a new, hip, exceedingly urban mixed use building, now known as The Owyhee.

Painted in opal white and smoky gray, The Owyhee is at once an architectural gem and a historic part of the city’s social fabric. In another life as the Owyhee Plaza Hotel, the six-story structure at the corner of 10th and Main Streets served as a cultural hub, complete with glittering ballrooms and posh lounge areas.

Now reconfigured to house a mix of 36 studio and one-bedroom apartments, retail and office space, as well as a cozy new restaurant called Kindness, the redesigned Owyhee boasts a location minutes from the bustle of 8th Street, and within walking distance of thousands of jobs.

“As a whole I think the product really hit the nail on the head in terms of design. It’s modern, but it’s subtle and sensitive to Boise as it continues to shape its identity,” said Lynch.

Photo of Mike Brown and Casey Lynch (Credit: Cydney Puro)

Working with local developer Clay Carley, who with his mother Joan Carley helped redevelop the lively Old Boise district just a few blocks away, Lynch and Brown brought back much of the 104-year-old building’s charm, but updated with a fresh aesthetic, modern furnishings and a more open floor plan.

“It was really challenging, but it was a lot of fun,” Lynch said. “We were really sensitive to the unique place The Owyhee holds in the hearts and minds of Boiseans, and we wanted to be good stewards of the building, and keep the historic charms of the building while trying to modernize it.”

Apartments boast hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops, not to mention easy access to nearby music venues and restaurants. Rents range from $700 to just over $1,200.

New downtown housing has long been on the wish list of local leaders, eager to provide Boise’s workforce with housing near their work places in an effort to cut down on pollution, create an urban environment more friendly to walking and bicycling, and to capitalize on the city’s significant urban reinvestment in the past 30 years.

Market conditions suggest a need for housing, as well. According to the Idaho Statesman, downtown Boise is home to 11 times as many jobs as residents — indicating a market case for building more housing.

“Downtown is a vibrant place — lots of young people, great jobs, vibrant economy — but there’s no housing. Typically housing precedes jobs and retail in an urban center. We saw it as a great opportunity to grow our business and get involved in an economy we think is going to grow and thrive in the future,” according to Lynch.

Furthermore, research shows Americans — particularly millennials — are increasingly interested in living in amenity-rich cities.

Photo credit: Laure Joliet

“Your traditional single-family home buyer has transitioned to someone who wants to live a more urban lifestyle,” he said. “These are the people who are really the lifeblood of our cities. Not everyone wants to — or can afford to — buy a condo or a home.”

After successfully bringing the Owyhee to market, Lynch and Brown now have their sights set on building approximately 150 apartment units even closer to the urban core. Plans call for construction of a new seven-story building, with an incorporated parking garage, at the corner of 5th and Broad Streets — a short walk from Trader Joe’s and BODO.

“We are going through an entitlement and design process right now, and we hope to build next year,” said Lynch.

Residential offerings will a mix of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units, at market price. And while the apartments will be smaller than they might be on outside of downtown, for Lynch the location offers access to city life: a built-in amenity.

“Just think of the impact of 150 - 200 new residents living downtown,” he said.

For a city already bustling with activity on weekends and evenings, with new, innovative restaurants opening and a healthy arts and entertainment scene, more housing has the potential to further expand the cultural offerings found in Boise.

“Where else in the City of Boise can you live where you can walk to a grocery store, walk to a movie theater, walk to a bunch of restaurants, bars, your job — all of these things?” he said. “There’s just no comparison.”