Man the battlements

Armory boosters play nice with city, CCDC


A drive by the old National Guard Armory on Reserve Street in Boise's East End doesn't indicate any sign of pending change, but behind the scenes, momentum is gaining to develop the site.

The city had planned to auction the property this fall, but recently made the decision to postpone the sale and consider transferring the property to the Capital City Development Corp.

The city has held the property since 1993. In 2001, Boise signed a $1 per year lease agreement with New Heritage Theater Company that was to last 75 years. When the deal soured, the Armory was in limbo until 2006, when it was returned to the city free and clear. Last year the city announced plans to sell the property, piquing the interest of developers, and spurring a group of East End residents to form an advisory committee to weigh in with their hopes and concerns for the space.

Although the situation has all the makings of an ugly urban renewal fight, all involved so far say things are proceeding just swimmingly. Adam Park, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bieter, said the city has been working closely with neighbors and so far, it's been a positive experience. Advisory committee Chairwoman Laura Shealy couldn't agree more.

"We said, let's have one of those really cooperative processes with the city and the neighborhood to achieve a successful project," Shealy said. "It's been a good experience."

As recently as a month ago, the Armory was held up by Next American City magazine as proof-positive that city governments, neighborhood associations and developers can work toward a common goal.

However, developers have yet to get involved. That's where CCDC comes in.

Although Park and CCDC executive director Phil Kushlan stress that the discussion to transfer the property is still very preliminary at this point, both agree that CCDC is better equipped to manage the Armory's future.

"We're not even sure we're going to take it over," said Kushlan. "We'll go through a process to determine if we're the best entity to do it. If we do, it will be well into 2009."

According to Kushlan, CCDC brings a "tool kit" to the issue that's different from what the city can provide.

"When the city disposes of property, they just have to sell it. Our statute of authority gives us the ability to be more prescriptive in terms of what we're going to achieve with the property," said Kushlan.

The Armory may be on the National Register of Historic Places but that does not protect it from a developer with the intent to demolish the building. CCDC would be able to impose restrictions on how the property could be developed.

CCDC, however, cannot function outside of geographically defined areas. In order to take over the Armory, the urban renewal agency will have to create a new district.

Workforce housing has been among the proposals for the Armory's future, a decision that would perhaps involve Idaho Housing and Finance Association rather than CCDC.

As for what the neighborhood would like to see, a number of suggestions have been offered up, most of which promote a mixed use space. Shealy said she knows what the neighborhood doesn't want and that's anything too noisy, like a bar or concert venue.

"There are probably 50 different things that could happen that would be great. Is there one perfect solution? No," said Shealy. "Ultimately we're hoping to attract a developer that has a little bit of the same feeling about the property as we do."