reserve street armory in morning sun

Part of our neighborhood

This site is developed and maintained by East End residents interested in Boise’s Historic National Guard Armory; it’s a way for all stakeholders to share facts and developments regarding the Armory location, structure and future uses.

Like others, we approached this project out of curiosity about the Armory’s historic uses  and how it might be transformed from a liability into an asset. We wanted to explore outcomes that might benefit the surrounding neighborhoods and Boise in general. Currently, the structure sits vacant, although the new owners are planning a few projects to stabilize, protect and enhance the structure.

Share your thoughts about the Armory itself, the roughly 5 acres surrounding it, and the transition from public to private ownership in 2012. Potential uses may be constrained by the current owner interests, zoning and market considerations. Bottom line…the building needs a purpose and tenant(s)—the sooner the better.

It’s a cool spot.

Armory Survey: Deadline Friday, April 7

Please contribute your thoughts!

The East End Neighborhood Association (EENA) is asking Boise residents for their thoughts on the planned development of the Reserve Street Armory. Deadline for comments is April 7th.
Explore this site for more Armory background and neighborhood perspectives.

URGENT! EENA Seeks Community Input thru 4/7

Oblique view of the light cream-colored Idaho National Guard Armory to the right of the image. The building consists of a 2- to 3-story barrel-vaulted center section, with a two-story section facing Reserve Street and a single-story section on the south side of the building. The three-story Shadow Mountain apartments and single story Cascadia nursing facility are to the left of the image.

Current view of the Armory profile from Military Reserve. This view of the historic building would be hidden behind a proposed multi-story residential development shown below at right.

The East Neighborhood Association (EENA) Board wants to hear your ideas about the armory and proposed development (learn more here, here and here).
April 7 Deadline: Please refer to this background piece and take 15 minutes and respond to the EENA/Armory Subcommittee survey here:
If you want or need more information, here are links to the site map and EENA’s neighborhood plan goals and more background information about the armory.

URGENT: The Alpha Development Group Neighborhood Armory meetings are scheduled for March 31 and April 1.*

*These are not official public hearings. They are informational only, but questions may be asked about the project if time allows.

Current plan view (left) and proposed new construction to the east (right).

  • For a brief history of the Armory’s past two decades, click here.
  • And to view the results of a past neighborhood visioning session facilitated by the University of Idaho Urban Research and Design Center, click here.
  • Selected comments over time can be found here.
  • This site contains a fair bit of information about what we’ve learned about the armory, similar structures in different communities (and how they’ve been repurposed), and lots of photos of the interior and exterior of the original structure.
  • Early Keynote Presentation developed for Mayor and Council: Armory WFHTF 6_11

East End Letters Reflect Neighborhood Concerns About Scale, Traffic and Housing Types

Following the January Public Information meeting hosted by the new Armory owner/developer representatives, a few neighbor concerns stood out:

  • the mass and scale of the development relative to the surrounding neighborhood
  • the lack of a master plan for the entire site or any clear vision for the Armory
  • traffic impacts on surrounding neighbors, local streets and public safety

Naturally, there is some tension here. On the one hand, locals view the Armory as part of Boise’s heritage and have been hoping for development reflecting local values and our need for affordable housing and an activity center. On the other hand are out-of-state investors who view the parcel as a commodity and who expect the development to generate the highest return on their investment. These two views are quite different.

This local view is summarized in an excerpt from a letter to EENA from a transportation/community planning professional living in the East End:

“What I would like to see is a proposal that includes a masterplan for the entire site, emphasizes the Armory building itself, the community use of the space, the neighborhood scale commercial, with much fewer residential units built at a scale that is in line with the existing community. I also would like to see any development that increases car traffic be required to mitigate the impact this will have on safety, noise, congestion and the impact on vulnerable users in particular.  However, I do not want to see the road capacity for cars increased, additional lanes for cars, traffic lights, etc. I would also like to see any housing to include affordable housing for individuals who live and work in the community.”

It’s true that the proposed 330-space parking structure and related traffic impacts would add considerably to those of other sources in the vicinity: the Bike Skills Park, the unrelated ‘Armory Ave Townhomes’ development on Avenue H, the existing Shadow Mtn Apartments and Shadow Mtn Rehabilitation/Nursing Facility, and the St. Luke’s expansion (1,200 + units of structured parking on Fort and 1st).

Satellite image showing a section of roadways and major sites in the vicinity of the proposed Armory development, with green lines indicating how traffic naturally flows in the area. Main structures and sites are indicated by colored shapes, and include the Armory, Bike Skills Park, Shadow Mountain Apartments, Armory Ave Townhomes and Fire Station #1..

Traffic patterns in and around the Armory. Green dashed lines indicate current and likely routes drivers will take through residential neighborhoods on roads that will be impacted as traffic volume and speed increase with surrounding development. Click to enlarge image.

For well over a decade, neighbors have been calling for a more comprehensive master plan of the area, along with a larger traffic study to anticipate and plan for the cumulative traffic burden impacting the area, which includes critical emergency response activity involving the Fire Station and St. Luke’s. This is also an area that handles Roosevelt Elementary School traffic (bike, pedestrian and vehicle) twice daily during the school year.

It’s also true—according to the stated plans—that the residential portion of the project will not include any units considered as ‘affordable’ under the federal definition of affordability (within reach of households at or below 80% of Area Median Income, or AMI) or as ‘workforce housing,’ with rents affordable to household incomes between 80% and 120% of AMI ($42K to $63K per year).

According to the 1/31 presentation, rents in the development would start at $2,000/month, which requires an annual salary of around $84,000, or a bit over $40/hour for full-time work. Boise’s average annual wage is currently $65K per year, or about $15K short of that needed for an entry level unit.

Boise currently has an historic shortage of housing types or price points that meet the needs and incomes of essential workers, largely as a result of outside private equity investment and speculation taking control of legacy housing inventory. This speculation has forced rents up and locals out. As the developer made clear during the recent informational meeting, ‘We don’t do affordable housing.’

Boise’s overall rental vacancy rate (for housing affordable to a full-time worker earning up to $20/hour) is currently 1.6%; that number is 0% in the 83712 zip code. Read more about housing considerations here. Roughly 70% of Idaho jobs pay less than $20/hour, and 66% of jobs pay less than $15/hour.

One neighbor’s letter seems to summarize the sentiments expressed by a number of participants:

Mr. Watson,

Thank you for the informative discussion yesterday evening about your proposed Armory project.  And thank you for making it possible to participate in person and by Zoom.

I have four comments about the proposed development (as I understand it from yesterday’s presentation).  

First, it appears to me that the proposed residential development is simply too large.  The primary structure seems much too massive in comparison with nearby structures.  The massiveness of the proposed residential structure overwhelms (in my opinion) the armory building.  Traffic created by the proposed 210 residential units and proposed (but not fully defined) commercial space will inevitably contribute to clogging in the general Broadway Ave corridor (especially when the already-approved St. Luke’s improvements are fully built out); traffic will then spill south into residential streets, impacting the general East End neighborhood.

Second, I appreciate your outlining various project criteria, including the need to have the project make economic sense.  However, it seemed to me that the economic question was being framed, in part, as a false choice.  It appeared from your “cheese block” explanation and subsequent comments that the starting point for the design was the absolute maximum development that could be fit onto the armory property, with any subsequent reductions representing a concession that could render the project uneconomical to build.  However, another approach would be to ask, “what minimum amount of development would provide an adequate return on money invested so far” (for the property purchase, conceptual design, and permitting efforts) and work up from there.  A smaller number of housing units would require less parking and less construction capital, and would represent less of a permitting challenge.  In other words, it seems that a scaled-back project should allow an adequate return and help fill a housing need, and result in a development that is much more in keeping with nearby structures, would fit better with the general surrounding neighborhood, would better honor the Armory building itself, and would have a lower traffic impact on the surrounding residential streets.

Third, I would highly encourage you to better scope out the entire development in the initial application, focusing on the Armory building (and associated commercial activities) and the residential portion.  My impression from yesterday’s presentation was that Alpha Group is currently focusing primarily on permitting the residential component of the development, with full plans for the Armory coming sometime later.  To assess neighborhood impacts adequately, it seems that the City should require a full development plan for the entire property in the initial application, not just the residential portion.

Finally, from the conceptual drawings shown last night I did not see any plan or architectural cues in the residential component that suggested a meaningful tie to the Armory building.  It came across like two different projects: (1) the massive parking-lot residential structure and (2) the Armory building.  A general site plan and a design for the residential structure that paid greater homage to the form and new function of the Armory building would, in my opinion, be much more in keeping with the City’s and neighborhood’s desire to honor the historical nature of the Armory building.

Again, thank you for your presentation yesterday, and for the opportunity to comment.

Christian Petrich

Boise, ID

We appreciate the thoughtful, respectful and constructive tone in the above letter, and the focus on actionable/reasonable considerations.

The Armory Subcommittee will work to further summarize neighborhood and community responses, concerns and recommendations as the process moves forward. We hope to find a balance that reflects both the values and interests of the local community with those of the out-of-state owners and investors.

BREAKING: January 31 Public Meeting—Virtual option available

As many know already from great reporting by Boise Dev (see below), the Armory was purchased last year by new out-of-state owners. While immediate plans do not include changes to the Armory, proposed new development features a mix of retail, residential and structured parking. As the Armory is on the National Register, the developers can take advantage of Historic Tax Credits—assuming the project meets certain criteria. More on that is available here Historic Tax Credit FAQ or by contacting the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Idaho State Historic Society.

Neighborhood representatives and EENA Armory Subcommittee members have met virtually with the new owner/developer in recent months to discuss the history of the Armory and their interests in the property. We’ve been impressed with their willingness to engage in voluntary community discussions prior to a formal application process.

The Armory itself has lain dormant and inactive for decades, and although the City of Boise owned the parcel for much of that time, there was never a vision or priority to put it into active use. The previous administration arranged a land swap with speculators J&M Land out of Palo Alto, CA, who performed some landscaping and stabilization after acquiring the property, but rebuffed local businesses interested in leasing the space. Any new activity means change on the status quo, although seeing the site put to productive use is something many neighbors have wanted to see.

The new owner/developer is hosting a public information meeting to share their current ideas and interest in the property. As the process moves forward, the city will hold public hearings on proposed changes to the parcel.

Public Information Meeting*

*not a public hearing.


Plan for Boise Armory site would add hundreds of apartments, retail, offices in Boise’s East End

A Brief/Recent History of the Armory

Given the current ownership and proposed development, it may be helpful to recall previous ownership and efforts to activate the Armory site and structure. Below are some key changes or activities in the past two decades.

2001 to 2006 — New Heritage Theater

During the Brent Coles Administration, The New Heritage Theater (NHT) approached the city to repurpose the Armory as a community theater and classroom space. The city granted NHT a 75-year lease (at $1/year) while they attempted to raise the approximately $7M needed for the project. Led by Sandra Cavanaugh, the NHT enlisted actor Anthony Hopkins to assist in their fundraising campaign. Read more here.

Years went by and the group struggled to reach funding targets. At one point, a representative from ArtSpace Utah reached out to an East End resident, seeking information on potential spaces for them to develop live-work space for local Boise artists. ArtSpace had the experience and financial backing to develop the Armory site and were willing to collaborate with NHT to share the building and site. The neighbor reached out to Ms. Cavanaugh at NHT to pass along the offer, but was told NHT had no interest in sharing the resource or speaking with ArtSpace.

By the start of the Bieter administration with new council members on board, things changed. According to city sources at the time, NHT had failed to make their annual $1 lease payments. A subsequent appraisal noted that (relative to the lease) “…the lessee fail[ed] to perform relative to the ‘construction, renovation, operation and maintenance.’” That, and the fact that NHT was still far from meeting their funding targets, led to council moving to terminate the agreement. The building remained vacant with no plans to put it to another use, although several developers had expressed interest in the site.

2007 to present — EENA Armory Subcommittee

In 2007 the East End Neighborhood Association created an Armory Subcommittee to study the Armory and site, survey local interest in the property, and gather community input on potential uses and activities. The Subcommittee worked with the U of I Urban Research and Design class to facilitate community visioning sessions, interviewed local developers, reached out to Idaho National Guard historians, and researched similar historic structures and how they had been repurposed and converted to popular and productive activity centers. Committee members also reached out to the folks behinds McMenamins in Oregon, but received no response.

Developers respond. Subcommittee members interviewed a dozen local and regional developers to get their ideas on the site and structure. Every single developer indicated that their first move would be to scrape the historic Armory structure and capitalize on developing the 5-acre site for mixed use.

EENA’s position was that the Armory was an essential part of our local history and heritage, and their primary goal was to support preservation, restoration and repurposing the Armory.

2011 — J&M Land

In late 2011, former mayor Bieter’s office announced plans for a land swap that would transfer ownership of the Armory property to Palo Alto, CA-based J&M Land (consisting of Basque billionaire John Arrillaga and former PowerBar co-founder Mike McCollum). This appeared to be an option to preserve the historic structure. John Arrillaga stated that he saw this as an ‘opportunity to provide a gift to the people of Boise.’

Armory Subcommittee members helped J&M obtain the original Tourtelotte and Hummel design drawings from ZGA Architects, and offered to work with the new owners/developers on strategies that would combine their interests with neighborhood and community values for the site.

It quickly became clear that J&M had little interest in local collaboration or ideas. They proposed bricking over the historic WPA structure with a color identified as ‘St Luke’s Red.’ Subcommittee members pushed back hard and instead the exterior was primed and painted.

Cell tower. J&M Land sold an easement to Verizon to build an 80ft cell tower behind the Armory, and again subcommittee members urged a compromise to preserve the visual space around the building; we met with a Verizon representative to discuss other options, and the result is a 65ft monopole designed to resemble a stylized tree.

Local Proposals for Armory Use

Since 2007, local residents and newcomers to Boise have had no shortage of suggestions for the building’s use, from wedding venue, equestrian center, pickleball or indoor soccer, to a natatorium, veteran’s housing and services, restaurants, wholistic health center, and even  ‘paintball war games.’

The most serious inquiry came from the owners of Bitter Creek/Red Feather and Diablo & Sons to use the drill hall and outdoor space to the east for a beer garden and brewery (for what is now known as Works Progress Administration Beer). This was seen as consistent with the Armory as a WPA project in the 30s. J&M’s terms were not practical or realistic for the Boise market, and the project didn’t move forward.

More updates to follow.