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.