The Hole Story Behind 8th and Main

There’s nothing ordinary about how Eighth and Main rose from the ashes to become the crown jewel of downtown Boise commercial real estate.

Nicola McIntosh Feb 15, 2019

Zions Bank’s commitment to serving the people and businesses of Idaho is no more evident than at the intersection of 8th and Main Streets in downtown Boise where a gleaming office tower rises 17 stories above the city.

In January 2014, the bank moved its Idaho headquarters into this $76 million retail/office building developed by Gardner Company and built by ESI Construction.

men at the groundbreaking ceremony of a new building
In November 2011, officials unveiled plans for the Eighth and Main development to fill the storied “Hole” in Boise.

As the tallest building in Idaho, the 17-story tower has changed the shape of the Boise skyline and boasts more than 390,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, Class A office space and parking.

“This is going to stand for many, many years as a symbol of the relationship we have with Gardner Company, the commitment we have to this marketplace, and our belief in the growing economy here in Boise,” Zions Bancorporation Chief Credit Officer Michael Morris told guests at a topping off ceremony on the building’s 17th floor in April 2013.

In some ways, the building’s development was no different from any other: the spark of an idea from visionary entrepreneurs that culminated with a grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting. But as many who have lived in the Boise area more than a few months know, there’s nothing ordinary about how Eighth and Main rose from the ashes to become the crown jewel of downtown Boise commercial real estate.

The History of ‘The Hole’

Where today stands 17 stories of shining glass, concrete and steel, less than two years ago was a pit in the ground affectionately referred to by locals as “The Hole.” The corner sat vacant for 25 years, save for remnants of concrete and rebar, the scars of failed development attempts in the years since a fire destroyed the Eastman building at the site in 1987.

But the parcel has proud roots as the first commercial property zoned in Boise, and the site of the Overland Hotel, which was built in 1864 and served as a popular gathering point for travelers along the Oregon Trail.

In 1904, the Eastman family bought the hotel, tore it down and built a four-story office building in its place. It quickly became the most fashionable business space in town. They later added two more floors, but as development moved out of downtown and into the suburbs, the building was abandoned and vacant until it burned to the ground in 1987. 

Adding to the location’s intrigue is the rumored curse placed on the site by local resident Billy Fong who was evicted to pave the way for commercial development.

In the ensuing years, the property changed hands multiple times and several planned developments failed to materialize. The so-called curse of “The Hole” lived on in local lore. But the site’s prime location and development potential could not be denied.

On an April afternoon in 2011, Gardner Company Chairman Kem Gardner and Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson traveled to Nampa, Idaho, to attend an event. Anderson took Gardner to the Eighth and Main site and told him, “I’d really like a building here. I think we could anchor a few floors of this if you were able to do it." And that was the start.

an American flag hanging from a construction beam
At a “topping off” ceremony in April 2013 to celebrate the final steel beam being placed at the top of Eighth and Main, guests signed the beam and watched it being lifted into place. Photo courtesy of Steve Smith Photography.

Silencing the Skeptics

With the strong financial backing of Gardner Company and Zions Bank, the developers still had to win the hearts and minds of future tenants, many of whom were skeptical given the site’s storied past. Boise Mayor David Bieter said that no other question dogged his tenure as much as what he was doing about “The Hole.”

Some also wondered if Boise could support an influx of Class A office space. Fred Mack of Holland & Hart was an early supporter, in addition to Mayor Bieter. Holland & Hart occupies almost 55,000 square feet on three floors at Eighth and Main. Other tenants include Ruth’s Chris Steak House, law firm Parsons Behle & Latimer, and CTA Architects Engineers.

man giving a speech at an outdoor podium
Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson tells guests at the groundbreaking that he hopes Eighth and Main will become “the heart of this community.” Photo by Nicola McIntosh.

Perhaps even more impressive than overcoming the so-called “curse” is the fact that the building was born during the Great Recession, according to Morris. “It took a combination of risk-taking in the private sector by Gardner Company, and the bank’s willingness to not only commit to the debt financing but to acquire several floors,” Morris says. Zions Bank has a full-service financial center on the first floor; office space on the sixth, seventh and tenth floors; and a community room for public events on the 17th floor.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of Community magazine. It has been edited for accuracy.

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