A historic Boise building that has housed and educated pregnant and parenting teens for generations is a big step closer to being saved.
The Salvation Army has agreed to sell the Booth Home to group of Treasure Valley investors who plan to keep it intact.
They want to turn the 97-year-old home into — you guessed it — condominiums. Just two, each taking up a full floor. One investor likes the building so much that he plans to live in the first-floor condo himself.
The buyers hope to save the property’s soaring trees and turn its 1960s-era chapel into a "bachelor pad," all while building 10 single-family homes on the nearly 2-acre city block — the largest buildable piece of land left in the North End.
Importantly, the investors' plan has the early support of the North End Neighborhood Association, which could help significantly as the proposal wends its way through local-government approval processes to come.
Jim Jones, a member of the association's board, said he is “cautiously optimistic because George is willing to work with the community.” He was referring to George Cooper, the investor who wants to live on the first floor. Cooper is also the project's builder.
“George has been working with the North End Neighborhood Association board," Jones said. "He has said all the right things. … We have to hold him accountable. He has said he will save the trees, save the Booth Home, and lower some of the heights” originally proposed for the homes.
Major Rhonda Lloyd, the organization’s associate Treasure Valley coordinator, confirmed that the Salvation Army has accepted one of the four bids received by the deadline at the end of April. She declined to name the successful bidder or divulge any details of the pending sale.
“We have not gotten the signature from our corporate offices yet,” Lloyd said Tuesday. “We do not consider it finalized. It is in corporate hands.”
But Jones said Cooper, president of Boise-based Westminster II, is the successful bidder. Cooper, whose company has built custom homes in the Treasure Valley since the 1990s, confirmed that.
Ron McDonough, president of McDonough Real Estate Group at Silvercreek Realty, and Brown Management Services LLC are the main investors in the property, along with Cooper and McDonough’s brother, George, who is also in real estate.
McDonough said the sale is pending and is scheduled to close on July 27. The property sold for $2 million plus a $100,000 donation to the Salvation Army, which plans to occupy the building for one more school year.
“We’ve made a deal to carry the loan with the Salvation Army,” said McDonough, who will sell the homes once they are built. “They have asked to stay there for a complete year. They’re staying there rent free…..
“We bid because other companies were going to put a higher density of homes on the property,” he said. “We’re trying to adhere to the North End neighborhood by building homes comparable to what’s around them and keep the historical feeling alive.”
Several 1960s-era buildings in various stages of disrepair will be torn down to make way for the houses. Jones said Cooper “has left quite a bit of open space on the plan, including in front of the Booth Home. He’s provided two alleys for garbage trucks and access to off-street parking. All of the units have off-street parking.”
The fate of the Booth Home has been on preservationists’ and neighbors’ radar for a long time.
The Salvation Army began a major capital campaign three years ago to build a new campus and announced that it would sell the property. But it wasn’t until February that a commercial real estate broker sent out a 32-page “call for offers” on the organization’s behalf.
Neighbors feared that the Booth Home would be one more icon lost to development in this time of rapid growth and soaring real estate prices. Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, featured the campus in its winter 2018 edition in a segment called “Transitions: Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost.”
The magazine described the structure as combining elements of Colonial Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles and noted that preservation groups in the state “fear that the Salvation Army may sell the surrounding land to a developer who will demolish the structures.”
The campus, on North 24th Street between Bella and Hazel streets, is part of the Expanded North End Historic District and is zoned residential. After it was listed for sale, city spokesman Mike Journee said any “significant” changes to the building face “an extraordinarily high bar” and noted that “there will be an extensive public process” before the original 1921 structure is altered.
The interior will need extensive renovation, Cooper said.
Cooper said he has “always loved that building. It reminds me of England. … There’s quite a lot of work to do” to turn the well-used structure into two high-end condos. “I’d like to do the inside historical so it matches the outside, crown moldings, make it grand.”
The neighborhood association conducted an online survey in 2017 to gauge resident sentiment about the value of preserving historic places such as the Booth Home. Its board hired Idaho Smart Growth, a Boise nonprofit, to conduct workshops with neighbors and other stakeholders and build on that original poll.
Among the main findings in the Idaho Smart Growth report, which was released earlier this month: “Historic preservation of the original 1921 building is clearly desired by a significant majority both among nearby residents as well as the larger neighborhood. This support appears strong enough to allow slightly denser housing on the property with the building being converted to multifamily residential.”
McDonough said it will take around a year to get plans drawn up and secure approvals from city historic preservation officials, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council.
“Our goal is to get the lots subdivided and approved and then hopefully reserved, create the business and get things off the ground in about a year," McDonough said. "We can’t do anything to the grounds until the Salvation Army leaves.”
Once that happens, Cooper said, “I want to make it a really nice block. This would be a really great last venture. I want to leave my mark. I want to plan it really well, give it as much love and attention as I can.”