BRIGHT FUTURE: Ball Ventures’ CEO, chief development officer discuss past wins and future goals
IDAHO FALLS — Ball Ventures, an Idaho Falls-based real estate investment and development company, was founded in 2002 by local businessman Allen Ball.
Over 17 years, the company has built and operated properties in the Idaho Falls area, such as Snake River Landing and Sandcreek Commons, and other properties across the country, from Utah to Tennessee.
Its real estate portfolio is diverse, investing in shopping centers, health care businesses and student housing, among other properties.
“We’re primarily a commercial real estate firm that focuses on grocery-anchored and major retail-anchored shopping centers and hospitality,” Ball Ventures CEO Cortney Liddiard said. “That’s our primary focus. We also have a number of private equity holdings, including auto dealerships, health care, midstream oil.”
Ball hired Liddiard, a former accounting firm partner who was looking for a new challenge, early on. And Liddiard built a team that, he said, makes his job a lot easier.
“The No. 1, best thing I ever did was go get people that are a lot smarter than me,” Liddiard said.
One of those hires was Eric Isom, chief development officer at Ball Ventures. Isom, who joined the company in 2006, oversees ventures, development, leasing, construction, marketing, property management and acquisitions. He also manages Ball Ventures’ crown jewel, Snake River Landing, a 450-acre retail and residential property on the Snake River in Idaho Falls.
Isom and Liddiard recently sat down with the East Idaho Business Journal to discuss Ball Ventures’ past and future goals at Snake River Landing and how it pursues real estate ventures.
East Idaho Business Journal: What was Ball Ventures’ first big project?
Cortney Liddiard: I would say that Snake River Landing has been a really big part of what I personally did, at first, and then I think (it) has continued. Mr. Ball had already purchased the ground when I started here. It was an old gravel pit. So a question we get frequently is, “Gosh, why did he buy that?”
Well, at the end of the day, Allen’s roots are here. His family is here. So a lot of the motivation was, it was an eyesore. You’ve got a mile of riverfront here. I think his vision of what was possible and giving back to the city that’s been really, really good to him, his family and business was important in figuring out that model.
Liddiard said that Ball Ventures officials are passionate about economic development and one of the investment tools the company pursued for Snake River Landing, to spur economic development, was tax increment financing.
EIBJ: You’ll have to explain tax increment financing, for me and the readers.
Liddiard: Well, exactly how much time do you have?
It basically allows you to use the tax base to help finance some public infrastructure, not private infrastructure but public infrastructure — sewer, water, parks, streets. And it allows, over time, to pay for some of that infrastructure.
At the end of the day, its purpose is to be just enough to spur the development and just enough to get the investors/possibly developer just enough to take the risk to get started.
But I think it’s really evidence of what you see here today and the buildings that have been built.
That was really instrumental in getting Snake River Landing going, right out of the gate and (it) put the infrastructure in, (which was) needed to get the tenants and to attract the interest.
Eric Isom: One of the biggest benefits to the city is the infrastructure. The city gets roads. I mean all these streets were built and then, basically, deeded to the city. So the city gets roads, infrastructure, access that it wouldn’t have otherwise had. I mean this would still just be a big vacant piece of ground otherwise.
EIBJ: What’s your real estate sales pitch? How do you attract businesses to Idaho Falls?
Isom: I think the growth is a story. You know, there’s certainly a lot of growth and a lot of things happening in the future here that are going to push that continued growth and create opportunities.
We want to keep people from having to go to Salt Lake or go to Boise. We want to keep them local. People want to shop here. They want to stay here. They just need to have a place to do it.
EIBJ: Ball Ventures focuses on anchored shopping centers. What does that mean?
Isom: Anchored centers typically have one or more large stores and their primary role is driving traffic. A lot of the smaller stores rely on the traffic that comes in to the grocery store or to the clothing store or the sporting goods store.
So a successful shopping center usually has both — it has the anchors there that really drive the people and bring them in and get them out of their cars, with the idea that while they’re there they’ll go to the smaller stores or the restaurants.
So that’s why we try to focus on anchor centers as opposed to un-anchored centers, which could be just small shops on their own.
EIBJ: Can you give some examples of anchored shopping centers you have around town?
Isom: The best example is Sand Creek Commons. You’ve got Cabela’s and Hobby Lobby and Broulim’s grocery store as the anchors and then scattered around that the small shops and then the restaurants kind of out on the edge. That’s kind of a typical neighborhood shopping center that we like.
We really like the grocery anchor because it provides, obviously, basic goods and services that people need every day. And, again, in retail it’s all about traffic. It’s about having people live close to the tenants, close to the businesses and having easy access to it. You want people to drive by every day and see it and remember that they needed something and go in and shop.
Ball Ventures recently donated 22 acres of land to the city’s Auditorium District. It’s the land that will hold the long-awaited Idaho Falls Event Center.
EIBJ: Why do we need an events center?
Isom: Our role with that Event Center basically is twofold. One, Ball Ventures has donated the land for it. That’s a commitment that we made back in 2009. We just made good on that.
There’s a board, an Auditorium District board, that’s charged with taking care of those funds and making that happen. So we’re not officially involved with that at all. Other than the role of, obviously, donating the land and then working with them on coordinating the site around the other stuff that we’re doing.
But, I think it’s safe to say as far as community members and as a business in the community, we certainly support it.
Liddiard: I would echo that and say 110 percent we support it. Again, you can see the common vision of giving back. Twenty-two acres of really some prime real estate in Snake River Landing but that’s evidence showing that we support the need.
We support the use. We think it would be great for the community. But, at the end of the day, the community needs to come together and decide on that use and make some decisions regarding it going forward.
Isom told the Post Register four years ago that Snake River Landing is meant to be a place where Idaho Falls residents can do anything.
EIBJ: Do you think it has lived up to that?
Isom: We’ve talked before about providing a place for people to do everything. And we’d call that live, work, shop, play. If you look at each of those areas, we’ve done that, I think we’ve done a really good job on that.
Obviously, you can live, you can work. There’s retail. There’s Bill’s Bike Shop and the restaurants, Kool Beanz and Love at First Bite. We see that continuing to grow in the future.
But then, a big part of that is play. We want this to have a sense of community. We want people to be able to live here and feel like they can do everything here without having to necessarily get in their car and drive. When you look at the different events that we have here throughout the year — 20, 21 events, from fun runs to the fireworks on the Fourth of July. That all plays into the whole of what Snake River Landing is and the experience that it provides for people. It’s pretty unique in a market this size to have that.
So with that, everything else that’s going on in town. We think the future’s bright. We’re excited for the things that are coming and excited to keep building and keep growing.