An endangered Boise icon was put up for sale this week, raising fears among neighbors and preservationists that the 97-year-old Booth Home could join other properties in the graveyard of Treasure Valley landmarks.
The Salvation Army owns the nearly two-acre site in the historic North End, a full block that holds the massive aging brick building formally known as the Booth Marian Pritchett School Program for Pregnant and Parenting Teens.
In addition to the former “lying in” hospital for unwed mothers – the product of an earlier time – the property is also home to an angular midcentury-modern chapel, a series of other 1960s-era brick buildings in various stages of repair, and dozens of mature trees.
Three years ago, the Salvation Army began a major capital campaign to build a new campus and announced that it would sell the property. But it wasn’t until Tuesday that the charity sent out a glossy, 32-page “call for offers” through a commercial real estate broker.
The marketing effort began with no fanfare and no listing price. Some neighbors said they felt blindsided by an announcement after a lengthy silence.
The controversy echoes a growing number of skirmishes throughout the Valley as development races to adjust to the region’s growth.
Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the nation. Boise is its economic, political and population center. Property values and housing costs are rising. Preservationists and builders are posting up, eying farmland and beloved buildings, and pushing for different views of the future.
‘That point is now’
The call for offers was a “total surprise,” said David Klinger, who lives a block from the campus, has worked to preserve it and saw the prospectus for the first time Thursday morning. “It’s symptomatic of the fact that we don’t know what’s going on. ... Sometimes people with the most to lose are the last to know.”
But Major Robert Lloyd, Treasure Valley coordinator for the Salvation Army, disputed the neighbors’ characterization, noting that his organization “has been very transparent about our intent to sell for a number of years.”
“We’ve been trying to raise funds for the last five years,” Lloyd said, because the organization has outgrown the home and wants to build a new, more spacious campus. “It strikes me as humorous that anyone would be surprised that the property would be sold.”
The Salvation Army needs to raise $11 million for its new West Campus near Emerald Street and Maple Grove Road. The group wanted pledges of $8.5 million before putting the historic 24th Street property on the market. It recently hit $8 million and expects the remaining pledges in the next 30 days.
“We were waiting for the fundraising to reach the point where we were comfortable moving forward,” Lloyd said. “That point is now.”
National Trust calls Booth ‘threatened’
Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, features the Booth Home in its winter 2018 edition in a segment called “Transitions: Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost.”
The magazine describes the Boise structure as combining elements of Colonial Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles.
“Idaho preservation groups ... fear that the Salvation Army may sell the surrounding land to a developer who will demolish the structures,” the article states.
The property, which is located in the North End Historic District, is zoned residential, and its use as a school was grandfathered in. Hal Simmons, city of Boise planning director, wrote a letter included in the prospectus advising that “any new development, alterations or removal of existing structures will require approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness by the Historic Preservation Commission.”
A 2017 survey done by the North End Neighborhood Association showed that 82 percent of those polled want the building preserved. Respondents suggested that the site be used for a community or arts center, small businesses, a park or single-family housing.
Neighborhood association hires consultant
Early in the 20th century, a Boise lawyer donated land to the Salvation Army on one condition: that it or proceeds from its sale be used by the charitable group to support its work in Boise. The Salvation Army sold that property and used the money to buy the current campus, which is bordered by North 24th, West Bella, North 25th and West Hazel streets. The Salvation Army built its maternity hospital in 1921.
That history, said Paula Benson, board president of Preservation Idaho, means the Salvation Army should be held to a high standard. “To those to whom much is given, much is expected,” she said, paraphrasing the Gospel according to Luke via John F. Kennedy.
“The Salvation Army has benefited not just from the property, but from the support of Boise for all these decades, both financially and socially,” Benson said. “We would like to think that the Salvation Army would hold themselves accountable for disposing of the property in a way that continues to benefit the city and the citizens – without negatively impacting the historic value of the property.”
In recent weeks, the North End Neighborhood Association has hired a consultant to help it navigate the city’s planning and development process surrounding Booth Home, said James “Jonesy” Jones, a member of the association’s board.
“We’re paying them to get more transparency,” said Jones, who lives with his wife, Alex, across the street from the historic campus. “We understand growth is inevitable and change is inevitable. We just want a reasonable voice in the process.”
The association has scheduled a community meeting March 12 to discuss what residents would like to see happen to the property, Jones said. A time and place have not been set.
City spokesman Mike Journee sought to alleviate the neighbors’ concerns. Although the Salvation Army is free to sell the property to whomever it chooses, Journee said “significant changes” to the 1921 building face “an extraordinarily high bar.”
After the sale, but “before anything happens to the property that changes it in any significant way,” he said, “there will be an extensive public process.”
Buyers tours planned
Thornton Oliver Keller is the commercial real estate broker handling the sale. The firm plans four tours for prospective buyers in March and will accept sealed bids until 10 a.m. on April 27. The bids must be accompanied by a certified check for at least $25,000 in earnest money.
The Salvation Army’s Lloyd said his organization chose not to list a price or even discuss what minimum bid might be considered. There has been so much interest in the property in recent years, he said, that “we will let the market decide the value ... we expect there will be some bidding that will escalate.”
When asked about Benson’s, the Joneses’ and Klinger’s contention that the Salvation Army has a “moral responsibility” to the neighborhood, Lloyd was clear. Once the former Booth Home is sold, he said, it is the buyer’s responsibility to work with the city and the neighbors.
“There is a process they will have to go through to address the history of the property,” he said. “I’m confident that the neighbors’ concerns will be heard.”
And the Salvation Army?
“The Salvation Army has an obligation to a generation of donors to make sure that we leverage the return on this property,” he said, “so that we can do far more good in the future.”