Idaho Falls city officials get final look at old Bonneville Apartments before renovation

The Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency provided an inside look at the old Bonneville Apartments on Wednesday to City Council members, the media and other city officials, including Mayor Rebecca Casper, a day before the agency finalized a deal to officially purchase the building.

The tour was a chance to see the historic building as it was before major renovations begin.

Brad Cramer, director of Idaho Falls Community Development Services, said the deal to purchase the building was finalized Thursday, and renovations are expected to be completed in fall 2019.

“There’s been so many question marks along the way,” Cramer said. “To know that we’re signing documents today really brings it to reality.”

The Bonneville Hotel — built in 1927 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 — most recently served as a privately owned apartment building for many of Idaho Falls’ low-income residents. Former tenants were relocated in July.

Its former owner, Kent Lott, signed a deal with the Redevelopment Agency in 2015, giving the agency an exclusive option to buy the property. Then, The Housing Company, a Boise-based subsidiary of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, won a bid to develop the property.

After talks with The Housing Company hit speed bumps due to federal tax cuts, the Redevelopment Agency signed an extension on the project in 2017. On Thursday, the Redevelopment Agency finalized the deal to sign over the building to The Housing Company for development, Cramer said.

“We’ve always known it’s an important building,” Cramer said. “It was just a matter of having the right partner, the right timing and the right financing mechanisms in place.”

The Housing Company is funding the project through low-income housing tax credits, historic preservation tax credits, grants and loans and about $2 million of its own money, Cramer said

The apartments won’t be government subsidized, but the majority of units will be rented exclusively to low-income residents, Cramer said. Rates will be determined based on family size.

Current renovation plans consist of 35 new apartments (ranging in size and cost), a lower-level rooftop deck and a 5,000-square-foot retail restaurant space on the first floor.

The dilapidated apartments and retail space will be gutted, but the building will keep its foundation.

“We know that it’s a really, really sturdy building,” Cramer said. “We know we’re not going to have to deal with any structural issues.”

Those on the tour — which Cramer led — had the opportunity to see every floor of the building. It was in the same state as when it was abandoned two months ago. Some of the apartments were cleared out and others were littered with personal belongings and trash.

Karen Lansing, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Idaho Falls Area and a member of the local Housing Coalition, said the tour dampened her mood after seeing the living conditions of the old tenants, but she is optimistic about the renovation plans.

Casper invited Lansing to tour the building to find any leftover items that could be sold in the Habitat’s store, Lansing said.

“The other reason I came is because I’m really interested to see what it looks like now,” she said. “I’ve seen the sketches of what their plans are, and it’s an incredible vision that they have for this building. We need to see it when it’s done.”

Cramer said he hopes the Bonneville Hotel renovation will prove that the city is dedicated to following through on revitalization projects.

“I hope people see this as evidence that we, as a city and redevelopment agency, want to see renovation projects take place,” he said. “We want to see our city renewed and revitalized.”

Lansing is buying into that idea.

“I love everything that’s happening in downtown Idaho Falls,” she said. “It’s great to see it rejuvenated.”

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