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Post-fire limbo difficult for building owners in Idaho City, Boise

Idaho City fire destroys historic boardwalk

Idaho City resident Bill Gillenwater shot this video of a fire that destroyed five businesses on Main Street in Idaho City in the early-morning hours of Friday, June 5, 2015.
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Idaho City resident Bill Gillenwater shot this video of a fire that destroyed five businesses on Main Street in Idaho City in the early-morning hours of Friday, June 5, 2015.

Law enforcement officials haven’t charged anyone in connection with an arson fire that destroyed the iconic Idaho City boardwalk last June. But the owners of the building have removed the debris and settled with their insurer.

“When we were in the middle of it, it felt like it was never going to happen,” said Toni Barrett, co-owner of the property with her husband, Randy.

That’s a feeling that Lori Porreca and Miguel Gaddi know too well. They have been in limbo since a Sept. 5 fire ravaged their Boise International Market, which housed at least 16 small businesses.

“The most unnerving or stressful thing is this amount of uncertainty,” Gaddi told the Statesman last fall. “You don’t know how long the tunnel is and when you’re going to come out the other end.”

In early January, investigators announced that they believe the market fire was intentionally set.

“The arson thing was pretty devastating,” Gaddi said. “Knowing that somebody out there, for whatever reason, was willing and able to do this. That’s a lot more worrying ... How will this play on potential partners and others considering being part of the second iteration (of the market)? Is this something that instills fear or concerns?”

Boise police are investigating but said they couldn’t comment on whether any suspects have been identified.

PROPERTY FOR SALE

The Barretts reached a settlement in mid-October, and the boardwalk building was demolished shortly after.

There was a lot of community pressure on the Barretts to get it done sooner — the charred remnants were a painful reminder of what was lost and an eyesore in the tourist town. But their hands were tied until investigators were done with their work.

Toni Barrett declined to disclose how much the insurance company paid but said it was less than half of the estimated $700,000 it would have cost to rebuild the boardwalk. They’ve decided not to rebuild.

It’s cleaned up. It looks nice. Hopefully somebody with a big vision will want to come up and start something new.

Toni Barrett, co-owner of Idaho City boardwalk property

The boardwalk fire is still under investigation by Idaho State Police, Boise County Prosecutor Jolene Maloney said.

SPIRIT OF MARKET LIVES ON

Porreca and Gaddi aren’t sure what the future holds for their building, as they don’t have a full account of what’s damaged — or, more importantly, what’s not.

The vision they had for the Boise International Market was much more than just bricks and mortar, more than a place where things were bought and sold. The structure may be unrecoverable, but their dream lives on.

“We’re not trying to do a mall,” said Porreca, a planner for the Federal Highway Administration. “This is more a community place where there’s culture and knowledge transfer, not just buying something.”

Gaddi is an architect and urban planner who works as a consultant and manages real estate investments. He and Porreca were aiming for something akin to La Paloma in San Diego or the Agora, a famed marketplace in Athens, Greece.

They tapped their personal savings to buy, repair and renovate a fire-damaged building on the Boise Bench. They interviewed hundreds of possible vendors and created a mix of entrepreneurs, including refugees from Africa and the Middle East. They connected these fledgling business owners with mentors that could help them succeed.

“For us, it was always a legacy project,” Gaddi said.

Every little piece were things we worked on. Every nail in the building, we could tell a story.

Miguel Gaddi, co-founder of Boise International Market

LOOKING FORWARD

Porreca and Gaddi believe the vendors who were part of the market are better off today than they would have been if it had never existed. They’re happy to see some of them open new shops, and they support the temporary market at Trailhead Downtown and efforts to create another permanent market.

They found out about the fire just hours after they arrived in Philadelphia for their wedding, and canceled that ceremony. Gaddi’s family, who traveled from Argentina, were able to come to Boise to see the couple marry on Sept. 11.

Many of the market vendors attended the wedding. It was a way to get together for something happy amid a “sea of sadness,” Gaddi said.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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