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Let’s be thoughtful regarding Northgate, revisited

March 18, 2019 GMT

On March 10, Chris Stevens published an opinion column. We could not agree more with the column’s title: Let’s be thoughtful regarding Northgate. We invite Bannock County residents to consider some counter-points:

1. Every concern or criticism outlined in Ms. Stevens’ column has been discussed extensively in years of open, legally noticed public meetings. The PDA. City Councils. County Commission. Planning Commission. State transportation board meetings. Check the record. The Northgate developers have fought in the public trenches with and for the Portneuf Valley’s government partners since 2015. We’ve led a transparent collaborative partnership advancing the Northgate interchange to be completed 16 years ahead of schedule. The Project thrives on transparency because it is beneficial on a serious scale. This also goes for development of the TIF district. Every step has been and will remain transparent. Coming to your public meetings is sound, excellent, informed citizenship. We want you there.

2. The column misrepresents TIF revenue, which has nothing to do with existing taxpayers and their hard-earned money, existing homes, or existing rates. Northgate’s TIF Revenue would consist of entirely new tax dollars created by entirely new citizens and businesses buying entirely new homes and buildings in Northgate. The tax revenue does not, nor can it, nor will it ever exist without Northgate. That new money will pay for things a city customarily funds — but in Pocatello’s case cannot be funded because the city’s growth toolkit is not complete vis-à-vis impact fees and comprehensive capital facility plans. By design, Northgate would use only TIF revenue that it creates, all in order to stay OUT of the city’s purse.

3. Northgate’s developers never made a public sales pitch based on a claim that businesses were lined up to locate here. This is Pocatello water-cooler lore. Those who have listened at all know Northgate is setting a new foundation for economic development. Over a year and a half ago at Bannock Development’s symposium, we laid out the equation “Place begets Talent, Talent begets Jobs”. Bannock County cannot attract the next generation of talent until it creates more places that offer excellent quality of life, strong community, and great feel. Businesses need a place to locate that delivers that amenity package. Is everyone aware that there is no Class-A business park in Bannock County? We have always known Northgate would start by preparing that place. The design has shifted and evolved, the principle has remained laser-focused.

4. On the Column’s “Build it and they will come” criticism. We respond bravely: Do not build it and they will not come. Last week in Nampa, “Project Bronco” (a major Amazon distribution center that will employ 2,000 to 3,000 employees) was delayed 12-18 months over lack of freeway access, properly scaled roads, and political championship. The project had a $14M infrastructure price tag split 50/50 between developer and City. Northgate could solve all these problems for Amazon, literally tomorrow, and it would cost the City…get this…nothing. Our interchange is paid for. Our utilities and roads are already scaled right. Our location is astounding — the best in Southeast Idaho. We can accommodate significant traffic the day the interchange opens without affecting life for citizens. Northgate has seen that kind of an end from the beginning and is prepared to lead.

5. Perhaps the column should reconsider its Chubbuck vs Pocatello mentality. The Portneuf Valley is one functioning economy, not two. Between 2000 and 2017 Bannock County added 9,598 population while Twin Falls County added 20,738 and Bonneville County added 31,728. That’s not just population growth — there’s a corollary economic growth. So what’s been happening in the Portneuf Valley? Infighting. Not competing as a single, powerful economy. Stasis. Surviving instead of thriving. The sword-crossing between the two cities must stop, because they both lose while nearby economies win. It’s time to think on this and get serious about change — not paying lip service to change, but powerfully, functionally advancing this economy.

Northgate is creating a runway for growth that has been retarded for decades by bad policy, provincial attitudes, press negativity, and far too much nay-saying. Adding thousands of clean, well-paying jobs over the coming decade will rebuild the fiscal foundation of the Portneuf Valley forever. It will increase wages while diversifying (and therefore lowering) taxes. Northgate chose Pocatello because we believe in its fundamentals. Pocatello City has stepped in the ring with a clear desire to compete, advance, and thrive in the regional economy. It’s time to choose that future.

So we challenge the citizens even as Ms. Stevens did: Let’s be thoughtful regarding Northgate.

Buck Swaney is a senior partner with Millennial Development, and Ken Pape is the director of operations with Portneuf Development.