It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me
and I’m feeling good.
In much the same way as Nina Simone sang in her chart topping hit, the folks in Caldwell, Idaho, are feeling pretty good these days: they’ve become the gateway for the SunnySlope Wine Trail. They’ve reinvented their downtown. Development is on fire. Business is booming. People are visiting there. People are moving there.
“People love it here,” boasts John McGee, Caldwell City Councilman. “They love the schools. They love the opportunities. It’s a great place to raise your family. As a result, a lot of people are coming here.”
Located on the western edge of Treasure Valley, this city of 70,000 is Idaho’s new hot destination. “Caldwell,” McGee believes, “does a great job with the balancing act. Caldwell invites people to come to wine country and come through Caldwell. But at the same time, it’s got such a great family vibe. It’s the best of both worlds.”
“Caldwell is unique in many different ways,” states Caldwell Mayor, Jarom Wagoner. “We have an incredible downtown that is the most vibrant downtown in the entire state of Idaho. And it’s not just our downtown that’s doing fantastic. We’ve got great companies coming to Caldwell with excellent jobs– good paying jobs– and it’s a win-win all around. Things are going so well in the city of Caldwell right now!”
That vibrancy did not happen overnight, though. In fact, it’s been years– decades even– in the making.
They say it’s always darkest before dawn. Darkness can be unsettling. It can be disorienting, even.
The people of Caldwell know a thing or two about darkness. They had many, many years of it in their downtown. Disinvestment. Deterioration. It was broken and blighted.
But here’s the thing about darkness: it always ends. The sun always comes back up.
And the city of Caldwell was bracing for the most spectacular sunrise.
Like all good stories, it came about in the most unusual way. In 2001, a car wash in Caldwell collapsed into a creek. The creek had been covered up, half a century earlier, to further development in the city. When it collapsed, though, it sparked an idea: what if they could unbury that creek? What if they could utilize that flowing water to flow some life back into their city? Caldwell began the Indian Creek Daylighting Project, where they could restore the water by way of unburying the creek. They would introduce that water to the daylight once again.
Buoyed with a new vision, the folks in Caldwell went to work. As the waterway came back to life, they developed 6 acres of green space to go along with it. The blight now had its natural beauty back: the forgotten creek was now an amenity for the city. Urban Renewal was under way.
“It was a massive investment, but so worthwhile,” says Steven Jenkins, Economic Development Director. “It’s an amazing accomplishment for our community. It’s really a landmark now for Caldwell.”
It’s a landmark for its beauty, yes. But it also serves as a landmark for what came after: over $25 million in real estate developments.
And so began a flurry of improvements. They expanded their wastewater treatment plant. They widened roads, heading into the business corridor. McGee says there was a general consensus in Caldwell: “the next time opportunity comes around, let’s grasp it. Let’s work together. Let’s make this a better place.”
The pride and joy of Caldwell is the 58,000 square foot Indian Creek Plaza, which opened in 2018. It’s become the heart and the hub of the community. It’s built next to Indian Creek, of course, bringing light and life to the city to the tune of nearly 300 events each year.
“Our new Indian Creek Plaza draws people year round,” Wagoner states. “It’s just a never ending event center and it does a great job.” In the summer, there is a Farm to Fork Farmer’s Market and a Splash Pad. In the winter, there is an ice skating ribbon. The city also hosts the Winter Wonderland Festival, from November through January, with over a million Christmas lights on display.
“What makes it such a special community is the people,” Wagoner muses. “Creating these community events in the plaza where people can come and feel like they’re at home… We want to provide those opportunities for our citizens to get amongst each other and get to know each other.”
“There’s so many great family activities, especially around the plaza,” adds McGee. “It’s really the perfect place to take your family.”
The average age in Caldwell is 30 years old. “We are a young community so we frame a lot of our development objectives and activities and things of that nature around families,” Jenkins comments. “That is a unique driver and attribute for our community that differentiates us from others in the Treasure Valley.”
One of those differentiators is green space. “We have 14 city parks, so there’s more park space per capita than in any other city in southwestern Idaho,” Jenkins says. “That’s a feather in our cap for sure.”
Another feather in their cap is The Caldwell Executive Airport. It’s the reliever for Boise, which means that their general aviation jets are transferred to Caldwell Executive if Boise doesn’t have the space. There are more than 500 aircraft based in Caldwell. And there are plans for some future expansion, too. “Our airport is in the top 10 in the country for takeoffs and landings. It’s number one in the state of Idaho,” Jenkins adds.
Sky Ranch Business Park is closely tied to the airport. It’s a 2 million square foot business park that houses 50+ industrial and commercial companies that provide 2,500 jobs.
On top of all that, Caldwell is a college town, too, as home to the College of Idaho. At 1200 students, it’s the oldest academic institution in the state of Idaho. “The international student base is 18%, so you see a lot of cultures represented there,” attests Jenkins. “It’s the most diverse campus in Idaho.” Jenkins is also quick to point out that the men’s basketball team is #1 in the nation in the NAIA, along with a football team that’s always in the Top 10. “It’s just an exceptional school across the board from academics to athletics,” continues Jenkins.
Growth has exploded here. Caldwell has doubled in size over the last 20 years. Housing, surprisingly, isn’t an issue, though. Inventory is good these days, thanks, in large part to the city’s foresight in planning ahead. According to Wagoner, there’s 1500 units in the works.
All of these things– from the plaza to the parks– “takes years of work and committees and local business people sitting around tables and drinking coffee and saying, ‘how can we get this done?’ McGee admits. “So this [now] is not by accident: it’s because people in the community have said, ‘We want Caldwell to be better.’”
“I think what’s formed all of these great things,” McGee shares, “is this kind of private-public partnership that we have in our community. The business people and community leaders partner with the local government and we’re able to do some pretty cool things.”
Wagoner agrees. “We’re very much a ‘give a hand up’ rather than ‘put a foot down’ to the people coming in and developing in Caldwell. A lot of times you see communities shun from that. And we try to fully embrace when development comes into the city and look at creating symbiotic relationships where we can both benefit. And at the end of the day,” Wagoner believes, “everybody comes out a winner.”
“There’s so much going on in Caldwell!” Jenkins states. There’s a large multi-family project under construction in downtown Caldwell. It will have 142 apartments with retail on the first floor, including a new restaurant. “It’s five stories. So it’s very visible in our community. We are excited to welcome this project into the downtown core,” Jenkins reveals.
Adjacent to that project, Jenkins says there are plans for a boutique-style hotel that would “serve the needs of downtown but also bridge the gap into the SunnySlope wine region.” Caldwell is considered a launchpad into the SunnySlope Wine Trail, part of the Snake River American Viticulture Association. “We have 17 wineries out there, and it’s really become part of the experience when you come into Caldwell,” he explains. “This is a prominent grape growing region.”
Those projects join a bevy of new small businesses– a whopping 35 to be exact– that fill the downtown since the Plaza opened. With little boutiques and lots of coffee shops, Caldwell is becoming a destination once again.
It used to be. Once upon a time, it was a
transportation hub with a railway stop right in Caldwell. Wagoner says he, along with leaders in other communities, are actively pursuing bringing the passenger rail back to Treasure Valley. “We have a historic depot in downtown Caldwell,” he states. “20 years ago, there wasn’t much if they stopped in Caldwell for them to do.” Things are much different these days, with the buzz of a bustling downtown.
Caldwell has a rich history. They were incorporated in 1890 making them one of the most historic communities in Idaho. “We are using our history to frame our future,” Jenkins says. “We’re trying to incorporate both elements as we grow.”
Part of that future framing is in the form of a five-story parking garage downtown. “We’ve built all these wonderful, incredible things. So parking is becoming a serious issue downtown because everybody wants to be in downtown Caldwell,” explains Wagoner.
He has hopes that the top floor of that structure will be a conference center, a space that is much needed in the area. Wagoner also dreams about a performing arts facility down the road, too.
“We all work together really well to move these projects forward. We all have the same vision of the direction we want to go. If you went back five years and looked at downtown Caldwell, you wouldn’t recognize it. And I truly believe as we continue to grow, if you went forward five years, you wouldn’t recognize it either. We are not complacent with what we have now,” Wagoner says. “What we have is amazing but we’re not finished. We have so much more to do.”
How do you unbury a long-forgotten creek? One shovel at a time.
How do you turn a ship around? One degree at a time.
How do you forge a partnership? One cup of coffee at a time.
How do you foster change? One day at a time.
A new day is dawning in Caldwell.
Welcome to the light, Caldwell. It is your time to shine.