The state is looking to broadcast loud and clear its dealing in commercial properties with an aim to muster support for a new era of investment.

On Tuesday, the state Land Board, chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, approved an $85,000 public relations plan calling for plaques proclaiming Idaho’s ownership to be stuck on state-owned commercial properties, including office and retail buildings in downtown Boise, and a self-storage facility to the city’s southwest.

State Controller Donna Jones, a Land Board commissioner, asked Department of Lands Deputy Director Kathy Opp to justify the need for the plaques.

Referring to the board’s controversial $2.7 million acquisition of the storage business in August, Opp said, “There were a lot of insinuations that we were hiding the ball, and we’re not … We felt it was important to communicate that (state ownership and benefits) in an open and transparent fashion.”

The plaques will read: “This property is part of the State of Idaho Endowment Land asset portfolio and is managed by the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners and the Idaho Department of Lands to generate income for the benefit of endowment trust beneficiaries.”

Between 1998 and 2001, the state acquired several downtown Boise buildings and parking lots through trades of residential property around Payette Lake, according to Jane Wright, a Departments of Lands commercial property analyst. The acquisition of the storage business in August was a first — the first commercial property bought with cash from sales of state land.

The PR contract with Tracy Communications, Inc. includes holding small group meetings with endowment beneficiaries to convey the plusses of investment in commercial property. The state says it wants to diversify its portfolio and that commercial properties can make more money for beneficiaries.

“Once we present that to them they seem very supportive,” Tracy Communications head Mike Tracy told the board about recent PR efforts  — he held similar Lands Department communications contract, sans the signage, from November 2009 to October this year. Public schools are the primary recipients of revenues generated by state endowment lands. The University of Idaho, a state mental hospital, and the Idaho Veterans Home are among other beneficiaries.
 Opp said Tracy’s work will translates to greater acceptance of changes to the state constitution, planned for 2012, that would let the Department of Lands’ expand its ability to diversify investments.

Tracy, who Otter and Jones hired to work on their reelection campaigns, will be paid up to $85,000. The two officials disclosed their connection to Tracy at the meeting.

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