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UPDATE: Twin Falls URA supports $5M proposal to replace old downtown building

TWIN FALLS — The old Idaho Department Store building has outlived its functionality, the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency decided Monday.

Six of the seven board members voted to support a proposal from regional partners to construct a $5 million multi-use building and parking structure at the west corner of Main Avenue East and Hansen Street East. To encourage development, the URA would demolish the former Idaho Youth Ranch building, sell the property to developers for $100 and pay around $850,000 toward the parking structure.

Only one board member, Dexter Ball, favored a second proposal, which would have remodeled the building, but drawn only a $2 million investment to downtown.

Still, the nearly unanimous decision wasn’t easy. Board members grappled with parking needs for downtown, nostalgia for the historic building and the overall cost to the URA.

Partnering groups Summit Creek Capital, Redstone Development, Pivot North Architecture and HC Co. intend to replace the 1905 structure with a 34,000 square-foot building. It’ll be home to a retailer, two dozen apartments and a business office for 50 employees.

“If we want downtown Twin Falls to be vital and vibrant, we need people downtown,” URA board member Cindy Bond said. “I want to see this downtown be vibrant. I want to feel like when I’m in Boise, and that’s where you go for everything.

“We’ve got to do what we need to do to bring people downtown. And if it means building a parking garage so you get 50 people here, maybe that’s what you need to do.”

An official agreement will come before the board for final approval at a later time.

Joint proposal URA

URA Executive Director Nathan Murray said this was “a really attractive project” and “a first for downtown.” But he and several board members were hesitant to support a parking structure.

“The idea of spending another million dollars on parking does give me some heartburn,” said URA board member Perri Gardner, noting the URA purchased another parking lot in 2016, just a few blocks away.

Kickback Points has already signed a letter of intent to lease office space in the new building for about 50 employees. The city-owned parking lot behind the former Idaho Youth Ranch has about 53 spaces, and the new structure would add another seven spaces, with options to expand vertically.

Board member Suzzane Cawthra questioned whether it was the URA’s responsibility to subsidize parking for a business. But Twin Falls City Council liaison Nikki Boyd said she favored a parking garage because it provided a singular place for parking, instead of spacing cars out more into adjacent streets.

Residents at the meeting seemed more concerned about tearing down a historic building, which housed the county courthouse from 1907 to 1910. It was also a place where people remembered shopping as children.

“There’s probably no one more nostalgic here than me, and I am the oldest geezer up here,” Bond said. “I understand that nostalgic feeling.”

But on a recent tour of the building, she lamented how it had changed a lot over the years.

“It does not look at all like the old Idaho Department Store,” Bond said. “There’s much decay. … Some parts are falling down. It’s not the same building.”

An engineer had even told Murray off-the-cuff, “If it was me, I’d tear it down.” And Realtor Fran Florence believed the building couldn’t withstand the necessary modifications for an attractive housing project.

The URA purchased the Idaho Youth Ranch building for about a half-million dollars this year with the goal of bringing more housing downtown. The other proposal the agency considered was from Kyle Miller with Paramount Property Development in St. Louis. Miller’s proposed $1.8 million historic remodel would have brought in a restaurant, a retailer and 10 apartments.

After the meeting, Miller told the Times-News he plans to move to Idaho and will continue looking for other projects.

In the end, the URA board hoped the joint proposal would bring it more bang for its buck.

The former thrift store building stands at a major intersection of downtown that’s had significant public and private investment in the past year. Not only does it fall within the new Main Avenue streetscape project, but it is kitty-corner to the new City Hall and adjacent to a future downtown commons plaza with a splash pad. Also next to the plaza is Debra Gates’ building, which is being remodeled and will eventually host a restaurant.

“I do feel this is one of the premier corners on Main Street, and I feel we should treat it as such by putting a bigger investment here,” URA board member Rudy Ashenbrener said.


Rick Naerebout, chief executive officer of the Idaho Dairymen's Association, speaks during a City Club of Southern Idaho forum on immigration Monday at the Turf Club in Twin Falls.

City Club forum focuses on the local impact of immigration

TWIN FALLS — Dairy makes up one-third of Idaho’s total agricultural receipts, and 90 percent of those working on dairy farms are foreign-born.

Those were some of the statistics brought up Monday during a City Club of Southern Idaho forum about the impact of immigration in south-central Idaho. Rick Naerebout, the chief executive officer of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and Dale Layne, Superintendent of the Jerome School District, were panelists.

There’s no federal Visa program that works for the dairy industry, Naerebout told an audience of about 100 education and business leaders, elected officials and community members. The H-2A agricultural Visa is for temporary, seasonal workers, but the dairy industry is year-round.

“The simple answer is we don’t have a single program that works for our dairy workers,” Naerebout said.

That leaves the industry without any way to bring in workers, he said, adding there’s a shortage of employees and it’s a big issue for dairy producers. “The idea that we can recruit American kids to do the jobs is just unrealistic.”

Monday’s forum was moderated by David Adler, president of the nonprofit Alturas Institute, who was a founding member of the Idaho Falls City Club.

The nonpartisan City Club of Southern Idaho launched this fall after a group of community leaders talked for more than a year about the idea. The group promotes community through vibrant dialogue, College of Southern Idaho President Jeff Fox told attendees Monday.

Nationwide, it’s a rare day when immigration isn’t a front-page newspaper article or the lead story on the nightly news, Adler said. The United States is a nation of immigrants, he said, but there are different opinions and intense debate on the topic.

“The rubber meets the road” when talking about the economic impact of immigration, he said.

Here are four of the key topics that arose during Monday’s forum:

Impact on the dairy industry

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association represents about 500 Idaho dairy farms. In total, 40,000 jobs are dependent on Idaho’s dairy industry, and 70 percent of that activity is in the Magic Valley, Naerebout said.

Of those, he said, 40,000 jobs, 8,000 are at the farm level — milking and feeding cows — and 90 percent of those workers are foreign-born.

Naerebout referenced a U.S. Department of Labor survey, which concluded about 46 percent of the agricultural workforce surveyed disclosed they’re undocumented immigrants.

One of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association’s top priorities is seeking a responsible immigration reform policy, Naerebout said.

It would need to address the existing workforce as the first focus, Naerebout said, allowing them a legal avenue to stay in the country and continue working. Also, determining legal status should fall on the federal government — not the employer, he said.

In order for a dialogue about immigration reform to be successful, you can’t just talk economics, he said, but have to bring it to a personal level.

Impact on Jerome schools

After a stint teaching in the Nampa area, Layne arrived in Jerome in 1991 as an elementary school principal. He became superintendent of the Jerome School District — which has about 4,000 students — in 2009.

When he arrived in Jerome, there were about 2,800 students and the community had very few Hispanic workers, Layne said.

The changes in demographics in the years since, he said, are partly due to the agriculture and dairy industries.

By 2011, Jerome had nearly 3,500 students and Hispanic students made up 45 percent of the student body.

Now, Hispanic students make up roughly 50 percent of Jerome’s school enrollment. Some are immigrants, while others are the second or third generation in the United States.

The school district has 690 students considered “limited English proficient.”

It also has 145 migrant students — a number that has dropped over the years, largely due to its definition as a seasonal job, which doesn’t fit the dairy industry, Layne said.

A number of Hispanic students go to Mexico mid-school year — often, around November or December — and some don’t return until after Christmas or even until March, Layne said.

For a first-grader, for example, who is learning English and how to read, “it’s kind of like starting over” when they return to Jerome, he said.

By the time students get to high school, coming and going can mean a loss of class credits, putting teenagers behind and off-track toward graduating.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric

There’s a large degree of rhetoric and attitudes nationwide and in Idaho that could be characterized as “anti-immigrant,” Adler said. He asked panelists to share their thoughts.

It should probably be an anti-poverty issue instead, Layne said, adding poverty happens regardless of skin color. “That’s what impacts education.”

Naerebout said he hears anti-immigrant rhetoric frequently and he said he thinks it’s often born from a personal bias rather than facts.

It’s important to be careful not to pigeonhole people, he said. He shared with the audience he’s the father in a biracial family and despite his public position, he sometimes wonders if his family is welcome.

People need to stand up for what’s right, he said to audience applause.

The Twin Falls School District is predicting enrollment will surge again next school year.

TWIN FALLS — Once again, Twin Falls schools are expecting more students when a new school year begins in August.

Typically, the Twin Falls School District’s enrollment grows 3 to 4 percent each year. It’s projecting 9,773 students for the 2018-19 school year, up a few hundred compared with this year.

But for budgeting, hiring and planning purposes, the district is assuming it will see only 2 percent growth.

“We want to be conservative in our projections,” Superintendent Brady Dickinson told the school board Monday night.

School trustees heard a presentation about enrollment and staffing projections but didn’t take action.

Each spring, school district leaders meet with every school principal to come up with enrollment estimates for the following school year. That dictates how many teachers are needed.

With that information in hand, schools can start hiring teachers and other support professionals, a process that often starts in the spring — earlier than years past due to a statewide teacher shortage and more competition for teachers.

“We do have positions open in the district, and we’re actively working to fill those,” Dickinson said.

Trustee Todd Hubbard asked why an estimated 2 percent growth rate is being used for planning instead of 3 to 4 percent.

Hiring the right number of teachers is a balancing act, Dickinson said. Plus, with the teacher shortage, it’s much harder to find additional teachers to hire at the last minute.

“I picked 2 percent as a conservative benchmark,” he said. “I figured we’d be safe there.”

The school district will have about 986 employees next school year. Of those, about 503 are certified teachers, 9½ more job positions than this year. There won’t be any changes in the number of administrative positions.

Some of the new job positions are those that weren’t filled this school year at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School and Canyon Ridge High School.

During their meeting, trustees also:

  • Approved a resolution for escrow/payoff of a portion of 2014 bonds. Instead of refinancing the bonds, the school district decided there was enough money in the bond fund to pay off a portion, Dickinson said. It means an estimated $5.7 million in savings, most of it in interest. Voters approved a nearly $74 million bond measure in 2014 to build three new schools. Rock Creek and Pillar Falls elementary schools both opened in August 2016, and South Hills Middle School opened in August 2017.
  • Set June 11 for a 2018-19 budget hearing and 2017-18 amended budget hearing.
  • Recognized employees of the month from Vera C. O’Leary Middle School: drama teacher and student leadership adviser Kelley Ramirez and head custodian Thomas Thompson.


Students head to their school buses in August 2016 at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School in Twin Falls.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Arts on Tour presents Piano Chameleons with pianists Matt Herskowitz and John Roney at 7:30 p.m. at the College of Southern Idaho Fine Arts Auditorium, 315 Falls Ave., Twin Falls. Tickets: $17 adults and $10 students at CSI’s box office.


This design rendering, obtained from the agenda packet for the Urban Renewal Agency, shows Summit Creek Capital's proposed design for a new building at 160 Main Ave. S. in downtown Twin Falls.

Former Minico athlete charged with child sex crimes

RUPERT — Former Minico High School athlete Lauriano “Larry” Vega Jr. was arrested at his school in Heyburn April 5 on felony charges of child sex crimes.

According to court records, at the time of Vega’s arrest, he was being monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet because of similar charges pending in juvenile court. The new charges stem from incidents that court records say occurred from March 27 to 30.

Vega, 18, is a senior and formerly played football and basketball at Minico.

He is charged with two counts of child sexual abuse on suspicion of soliciting minors under the age of 16 to participate in sex acts and a count of misdemeanor battery.

Police said a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old said Vega made unwanted sexual advances toward them. The officer said he was familiar with Vega from a recent sex abuse case that he helped investigate.

According to court documents, the battery charge stems from unwanted touching of an 18-year-old woman. She was with the teen girls on March 27, and said she and Vega began flirting. She told police that when she went outside, Vega approached her and without provocation, he grabbed her around the waist and forcibly kissed her. She said she briefly kissed him back but when she realized what was happening she backed away from him and he attempted to kiss her again. Vega asked if she wanted to have sex with him and when she said no, he told her he’d never been told no before, court records said.

The 14-year-old girl told police she was playing cards at a table at a business on March 30 when Vega sat beside her. The girl said she told Vega her age, but he propositioned her for a sex act and rubbed and grabbed her thighs underneath the table, court records said. She said when she moved away from him, Vega would move close to her again. When she stood up to leave, she told police, Vega grabbed at her buttocks but missed and grabbed the back of her thigh. The girl said when they all went outside the business to a fire pit, Vega grabbed her buttocks when she walked by him.

Police spoke to the 13-year-old girl at school, and she said Vega had also propositioned her for a sex act on March 30.

Police reviewed Vega’s GPS monitor, which showed he was at or near the business at the times and dates the girls said he was there.

After he was arrested, police said Vega admitted to police that he kissed the woman, and said he shouldn’t have done it. He denied propositioning the two minors for sex and denied touching the 14-year-old.

Minico athletic director and boys basketball coach Ty Shippen said he had no knowledge of any abuse charges made against Vega before Vega was arrested in December on previous charges. Former Minico football coach Tim Perrigot also said the arrest was the first time he heard about Vega’s charges.

Vega was the 4A Great Basin Conference Football Player of the Year in 2017.