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.

Armory in the News

Members of the armory advisory subcommittee of the East End Neighborhood Association sneak a peek inside the old armory, which has been sitting vacant for decades. The city sold the armory to a private California developer, who replaced the windows and painted the exterior. The committee was formed to help the city come up with ideas for the historic building, and the committee would like to work with the developer as well.

Photo credit: Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

Nice interview by the Statesman’s Maria La Ganga, with photos and video by Katherine Jones. The Idaho National Guard Armory is part of Boise’s history and a strategic location for a mixed-use development. Its 14,400 square foot drill hall would be ideal for a branch library, craft brewery, farmers market, or other use. With a total of 40,000 square feet and five acres at the base of Boise’s Military Reserve trails complex, the site is ripe for a mix of retail, commercial, residential and public use. Conversations with the Idaho National Guard have also indicate a willingness to provide interpretive materials documenting the Guard’s history in the Armory.

Several of us have been intimately involved with this architectural icon since the East End Neighborhood Association formed the Armory Subcommittee in 2007. Our primary goal was to preserve the building and its historic features. While the California owners have done great work stabilizing the structure and installing landscaping and flood control, it has remained vacant over the past six years, despite many local business owners hoping to strike a deal and our many offers to help market the property and locate ideal tenants.

The right mix of interest and vision can transform the Armory into a neighborhood activity center and asset.

Please note: It was the Statesman’s choice to contrast the Armory property with the Block 75 parcel with a focus on housing. The Armory subcommittee members—each invited in 2007 to represent various skill sets and perspectives—have always sought to accurately reflect the views expressed by neighbors during two well-attended community visioning sessions in December, 2007, first in Old Boise with a follow-up meeting at Roosevelt Elementary School, as well as comments received over the past decade (see more on this here). These views have consistently supported a mixed-use development that provides a range of services and amenities to the surrounding neighborhoods, including medium-density, mixed-income housing that complements the Armory and surrounding neighborhoods.

We realize not everyone wants the same things, but we’ve attempted to faithfully represent the views respectfully expressed throughout these information-gathering sessions.

Spring 2017 Update

The folks involved with Armory Subcommittee continue to get questions about the Armory’s status. Here’s a limited update as of March 15, 2017.

Armory after one of the many spring rains. —late April, 2017

The building exterior is in pretty nice shape and holding up well; the landscaping is established and continues to be maintained. We hear the interior lobby and stairwell are underway and should be complete later this spring. We will post pictures as available.

With ample space for parking and compatible development, the Armory presents great opportunities.

No word as yet on potential tenants, although subcommittee members stand ready to assist in any way possible in the quest for a tenant to complement the building and neighborhood zoning and character. As anyone who has seen this building and setting knows, the Armory is an exceptional property in a strategic location…ideal for a mixed-used neighborhood activity hub with a combination of retail, food and beverage, community space, workforce housing and commercial uses.

The Armory sits at the base of Boise’s Military Reserve trail system, with world-class, mixed-use hiking and biking.

Portland’s Armory Repurposed as Gerding Theater

Thanks to sharp-eyed preservationist  and planner John Bertram for sharing information on Portland’s own historic Armory, which he says enjoys wide support and visibility.

John was visiting Portland recently and says he…

“…discovered the Portland Armory behind Powell’s Books on Davis and 10th Ave. It was built in 1891 and placed on the NR [National Register] in 2000.  A developer purchased it in 1999 as part of the Brewery Blocks package and sold it to the Portland Dev. Corporation (urban renewal agency) in 2003.  Funds were raised along with New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) and  historic tax credits to restore the exterior and build a new structure within the interior.

Renamed the Gerding Theater at the Armory, it now houses Portland Center Stage (non profit), with two theaters, a café, offices, and support space. The Armory is open to the public, reimagined and renovated on four pillars: history, theater, sustainability, and community.”

See John’s photos below:

PA large theater Port Armory blt 1891 Port Armory entrance Port Armory lobby 1 Port Armory Lobby 2 Port Armory plaque