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How does a community convert an underused horse racing track into a viable space?

Conditional Use Permit paves the way for 88-acre riverside park in Garden City
Posted at 1:24 PM, Nov 09, 2023

GARDEN CITY, Idaho — Expo Idaho is the current home to a horse track, though it appears that this space may be getting a makeover to become an 88-acre park, right in the heart of Ada County.

Ada County Commissioner Ryan Davidson says, “I think it's a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide a brand-new park, right here in the middle of Ada County, and we’re trying to make it as spectacular as we can for people can enjoy.”

On Wednesday night, Ada County Commissioners voted in favor of a Conditional Use Permit for the Park at Expo Idaho, proposed to become a riverside park that prioritizes urban biodiversity and nature-based play, right along the Greenbelt in Garden City.

“I think that's what we really wanted to do with this project. To look at the landscape, look at the kind of geography, geology, the plant material, the kind of character of this region, and think about how to create microcosms of that within this park", says Christopher Marcinkoski.

Marcinkoski is a partner at the design firm Port Urbanism. They were selected to make the envisioned park a reality after submitting ideas to a design competition (see initial designs).

The park will have five distinct sections, including an adventure play area, an all-wheels sports section, the Lowlands, and more.

"We're creating an area that we're calling the Lowlands, which is an area of lowered ground, wetter, [has] more biodiversity, lots of natural character, and is a pretty strong contrast to the artificiality of the race track that's there now,” says Marcinkoski.

There are two phases for the completion of the park. For now, the focus is on the five sections included in Phase One.

Although many are in favor of the park, some nearby residents have expressed concerns with the plans. One resident says, “So that’s our concern, that the safety issue in place for an undetermined amount of time after phase one is built.”

The park is being paid for through the American Rescue Plan Act, and not directly from Ada County taxpayers. With the lack of green spaces in Garden City, this park will provide a communal area for families around the Treasure Valley.

"This will be one of the bigger parks in the entire county and centrally located, that's the exciting part, and we're not moving the fairgrounds. The Western Idaho Fair will continue to be on this location for the indefinite future,” says Commissioner Davidson.

Some exciting features will be included in the park, but you'll have to wait a few years to enjoy them all, as the expected completion date for phase one is in 2026. There's no timeline as to when construction will begin on phase two.