As many of you have heard by now, the Boise City Council has called for a meeting next Tuesday at 6 PM to get public input and possibly make a final vote on the location of our organization’s beloved home.
Our staff and board are shocked and confused by this announcement, as we first heard about this public hearing when you likely did — on Wednesday, on Twitter, in the Statesman, or in some cases, from Council President Lauren McClean’s email newsletter. Although the City of Boise is suggesting we have been working together on a solution, the City has not been in contact with us for over five weeks. No clear options for our relocation have been presented to us. This leads us to believe that upcoming meeting is political rather than practical and that the City is not making a good faith effort to negotiate a solution that protects our organization.
What you need to know
Why should the City be interested in protecting us? Besides the obvious answer — that our city values the arts and cultural organizations that serve vulnerable and underserved populations — we need to be clear that the City didn’t just arbitrarily award The Cabin a long-term lease to the building and roughly a half acre of surrounding land. Our founders negotiated this lease 25 years ago in exchange for saving the historic log cabin from possible demolition and making it accessible. Over the years we have put approximately a half-million dollars into renovation and upkeep and in return for that effort we have 40 years left on our lease.
Although the City had kept in contact about the upcoming library project, we were surprised as everyone else when in May we were made aware that the draft plan of Moshe Safdie’s design did not include us. Nevertheless, we thought it would benefit us to take a pragmatic approach to the situation and work with the City. We are a center for readers, writers, and learners, after all. The communities we serve would certainly also be served by a new, state-of-the-art library. Since the architect designed the new library without The Cabin on the map, it was obvious that the City wanted to move us. In order to protect our future, we started working closely with the city staff to identify possible locations.
In July, the City presented us with an option we thought might work — the maintenance yard on the north side of Julia Davis Park. Although the site would need a major landscaping overhaul, it provided access, parking, programming space, and a safe and tranquil environment for our young writers to pursue their art. The City seemed as excited as we were that we had identified a suitable location, and we spent the next few months trying to negotiate a final plan.
Maintenance Yard Site Plan, Courtesy of the City of Boise
Then, in the fall, the City Council started to make public declarations that the maintenance yard site was no longer being considered because of future development potential and wanted to present three additional sites at an upcoming city council meeting. No one from the City Council reached out to us to explain the change, and city staff seemed as confused as we were by the sudden shift. Although we were frustrated by the lack of communication and clear process, we decided to accept the new situation and testify at the council meeting on November 27th. Find a summary of this meeting and a map of the options here.
That evening, I testified to why all of the offered scenarios were unsuitable and noted that we were trying to choose the least bad option. As I mentioned before, we were given no evidence that the City was seriously considering keeping us at our current site. So, with no promise of future access or programming space, and with the knowledge that if we stayed we faced two-to-three years in a major construction zone, we continued to advocate for moving to the maintenance yard because it was the only site that fit our needs and the only site the City had fully investigated. The City Council voted to reject that site but move the building to an unknown future location. They gave city staff and The Cabin a two-month window to come up with a new solution.
At this point it was obvious to us that the City’s process was disorganized and that city leadership was not all on the same page. Although we still had faith we could reach a solution, the maintenance yard switch showed us that we needed to be more careful moving forward. We asked for regularly scheduled meetings with city staff and leadership to discuss issues like parking, programming space, flooding potential, national register nomination, and conflicts with park festivals both on the newly proposed sites as well as any new possibilities. We also requested full consultations with the neighboring museums and the zoo, as well as a legal document that outlined cost and responsibilities of the City and Cabin moving forward. We have repeatedly requested this legal document since we were presented the maintenance yard option and still haven’t received it from the City.
In early December, we met with city staff a few times to revisit the site adjacent to the Gene Harris Band Shell in Julia Davis Park, which our board had previously voted against.
On January 7th, the City changed directions and presented to us a completely new possibility on the far east end of the park near the Children’s Cancer Pavilion. This new site seemed to solve many of the problems we had with other locations, as it offers ample parking and programming space. The site has a tranquility that matches our original location and it is far enough away from our cultural neighbors that it wouldn’t interfere with park events. We asked the City to make sure leadership was on board with the new proposal and to do further investigation of its feasibility with the hopes of putting the new location to a board vote and putting together a legal document.
Site at east end of Julia Davis Park
A few days later, on January 11th, the City surprised us again when they let us know they wanted to reopen the option of the building staying in its current location. Although this caught us by surprise, we agreed to consider the possibility if some serious alterations were made to the library plan. Again, the original concept was not designed to accommodate The Cabin staying on site. The City promised to keep in close communication on both possibilities. We didn’t hear from them again.
Our current dilemma
Five weeks have passed, and although we have consistently requested updates, city leadership ignored us until last Tuesday, when the City Council voted to move forward with a meeting about The Cabin’s fate. No one called us to explain the decision and although we met with Mayor Bieter yesterday, no one could even clearly articulate what options will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
Again, we are frustrated and confused. The Cabin has been working hard since last June to come up with a solution to this dilemma but we no longer believe the City is negotiating in good faith.
What you can do
As stated above, we have reason to believe that Tuesday’s meeting is politically motivated and that city leadership has already come to a conclusion about the Cabin’s fate without our input. This leaves us with few options. Because city leadership has not provided us with any written reassurances that the library will be redesigned to accommodate us, we will be advocating for a move to the east end of the park.
We realize that this puts you in a difficult position, as information about this site has never been made public. As such, as much as we’d like for you to advocate for our organization’s viability at the east end of the park, we don’t expect you to. Instead, we’ve identified three ways you can advocate for our future next Tuesday.
- Advocate for east end site. Join us in advocating for a move to the east end of Julia Davis Park. Let City Council know you think they need to take this option seriously. Our presence at the east end of the park will keep The Cabin in its original, park-like setting, give us plenty of space for our summer writing camps and other outdoor programming, and enliven an underutilized area of the park.
If you’d like to see our organization serve even more young writers from across the Treasure Valley, show up to the Maryanne Jordan City Council Chambers at Boise City Hall on Tuesday, February 26th before 6 PM to sign up to give a 3-minute testimony. You can also send written testimony to Citycouncil@Cityofboise.org by close of business on Monday, February 25th.
- Advocate for more time. No matter how you feel about our building’s location, you can come testify to our value to the community. Did camp change your life? Were you moved by a Writers in the Schools class at Ada County Juvenile Detention Center, or a Readings & Conversations in the Classroom visit to Marian Pritchett School?
Let the City know that you think the needs of our organization deserve to be considered and that more time and care should be given before City Council makes this important decision. Remember, the work we do in the community is only possible because the investment we made in this building in exchange for our long-term lease keeps our overhead low.
- Advocate for more input. Contact the Mayor and City Council and let them know that you’re disappointed in the lack of transparency and organization around the Main Library project. Your voice deserves to be heard.
For more specific guidance on how to help or questions about Tuesday’s meeting, contact Megan Williams, Development and Communications Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-331-8000 x104.
For questions not directly related to Tuesday’s hearing, please contact Executive Director Kurt Zwolfer at email@example.com or 208-331-8000 x107.
Although this process has been chaotic, we truly hope the City will take our concerns about the future of our organization and its historic building seriously and consider our input before their votes take away our voice.
Thank you for your support.
THE CABIN, a center for readers and writers