Refashioning A Town Down On Its Luck

Home to Chinese immigrants before becoming a town known for vice and sin, Garden City, Idaho, is planning a rebirth that leaders and residents hope will transform the community into a desirable and prosperous part of Metro Boise.

"Garden City earned its name from the many early Chinese immigrants who planted gardens in the rich floodplains of the Boise River. The area later became a haven for the kinds of activities the leaders of Boise didn't want connected with their city, but still wanted close enough to enjoy. Gambling remained legal in Garden City until 1949, and for long after that, adult bookshops, pawn shops and hotels advertising hourly rates lined the road.

Todd Shallat, director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State, said for a time the area was a national hot spot for celebrities who wanted a quickie divorce and the kind of fun that was frowned upon in polite society.

But in recent decades, Garden City has begun a slow transformation, from seedy playground to viable community. The city's infamous adult shops now number just one, and the city is the only one in Ada County where crime rates are actually on the decline.

It still has its issues, including the highest concentration of registered sex offenders in the county, with 46 living among the roughly 12,500 residents. And there's that lingering reputation that makes some business owners shy away from the area, despite its heavy traffic flow-165,000 cars per day-and proximity to downtown Boise.

"Business people said it was gutsy to do it-it seemed risky because of Garden City's reputation," said Irene Deely as she sat in the comfortable yet chic interior of her gallery.

"I loved the fact that it was the first fine-art gallery [in the city]. It was unusual," she said. "We just had to have a lot of tenacity. I plugged my ears to all of the negative and just stuck in there."

Deely's approach is one Garden City Mayor John Evans and other city leaders are trying to persuade others to take. Last year, the city council adopted a new comprehensive plan, and while plan updates are required every 10 years, this time, the city started from scratch.

"We wanted to capture the current mind-set of the community," Evans said. "Garden City needed to be legitimized as a real city, with benefits for its citizens, or it needed to go away."

Sitting in his office in the new Garden City Hall, Evans describes how 125 residents turned out to share their visions for the future of the city. Of that original group, 17 formed a steering committee that helped draft the comprehensive plan later adopted by the council.

The 49-page plan outlines every aspect of the ideal Garden City, from improving the city's appearance by making Chinden Boulevard and Glenwood Street "grand boulevards" lined with trees, to maintaining and improving the area's existing assets, including more than 5 miles of riverfront property and the Greenbelt.

"Garden City is creating a new vision for the future," reads the plan."

Full Story: Garden City Rising

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