I.F. Redevelopment Agency plans remake of Bonneville Hotel, vacant lot - East Idaho News
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I.F. Redevelopment Agency plans remake of Bonneville Hotel, vacant lot

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Two key real estate moves could signal the early stages of a downtown rebirth in Idaho Falls.

The board of the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency recently approved a $50,000 real estate option agreement on the historic Bonneville Hotel, which currently serves as low-income apartments. Officials said the agreement allows two years to find the right developer to overhaul the deteriorating structure.

The city’s urban renewal agency also approved the $1.5 million purchase of the vacant gravel and pavement lot on the northeast corner of Broadway and Memorial Drive, near the greenbelt. Officials hope to find a developer to construct a mixed-use housing and retail project on the 1-acre site.

The real estate moves are part of a larger effort by the Redevelopment Agency to kick start growth in the historic center of Idaho Falls.

“This isn’t window dressing,” Lee Radford, the board’s chairman, said after the meeting. “It’s not just making downtown prettier. We’re trying to move people downtown, to change the economics of downtown.”

For both projects, the agency will soon put out a request for proposals to developers. The properties could be offered at a discount or have other financial perks attached to them to encourage swift redevelopment, officials said.

The Bonneville deal will give the agency two years to line up a buyer to transform the brick building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It means owner Kent Lott is not allowed to sell it to anyone else in that time frame.

If the agency finds a suitable developer, it could exercise the option to purchase the Bonneville for $1.5 million.

A recent study commissioned by the Redevelopment Agency indicated the five-story Bonneville Hotel would need a complete interior renovation.

The top two floors, with expansive views, could be made up of high-rent apartments, while the second and third could be devoted to affordable housing under a low-income tax credit program. Officials said Thursday the bottom floor might be remade into retail shops.

Lott said the deal likely would make some of his longtime residents uneasy about their housing situation. He planned to send out a letter to them this week explaining the agency’s plan.

If the agency can’t line up a developer in two years, Lott keeps the $50,000. But he said he was hopeful about the prospect of selling the property and seeing it transformed.

“If the building was revitalized, it would be a huge thing for the city of Idaho Falls,” Lott said. “It’s a main staple downtown, it’s a historic landmark. Everyone knows the Bonneville.”

The corner of Broadway and Memorial Drive is a vacant, partially-paved lot that was the previous site of the Savings Center grocery store. It was owned by the Vern Kelsch family, which had owned and operated the Savings Center for years.

“It is the entryway to downtown,” Renee Magee, the agency’s executive director, said of the property.

Radford and Magee said the property, considering its prime location, has seen interest from developers before, but it never went anywhere. Radford said the lot could be made up of a multi-story combination of retail and residential.

“The market needs to decide,” he said.

POST REGISTER / MONTE LAORANGE: The Savings Center on Broadway and Memorial Drive was demolished in February of 2014. The Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency approved the purchase of the vacant lot for $1.5 million Thursday, Oct. 1.

City Councilman Ed Marohn, who helped line up the Memorial Drive property sale, called the lot a “keystone” for development downtown. A successful project there could spur further growth in the area, particularly if more residents begin living in downtown apartments.

Those residents would be ideal customers for downtown businesses, he said.

“The downtown area needs to be revamped,” Marohn said. “We have a lot of old buildings, and we can’t just sell Idaho Falls as a historical town by saying, ‘Look at all the old buildings we have.’ In order for downtown to have development, we have to look at urbanization.”

This article was originally published in the Idaho Falls Post Register. It is used here with permission.