East Side Story 

Boise neighbors have plenty of ideas for armory

The Reserve Street Armory was built with funds from President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in 1937. Its design includes Art Deco details, according to the Boise Architecture Project.

Erik Kingston

The Reserve Street Armory was built with funds from President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in 1937. Its design includes Art Deco details, according to the Boise Architecture Project.

After its completion in 1937, the Reserve Street Armory has seen its fair share of changes--an evolving neighborhood, Foothills preservation, the expansion of St. Luke's Boise Medical Center--but also witnessed more than seven decades of its own decline.

"It's dilapidated," said John Brunelle, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's assistant for economic development. "It's deteriorating."

But now plans to breathe new life into the landmark's stagnant air could come to fruition, though the exact details of the plans remain unclear.

"It's a diamond in the rough, but it's going to require someone with vision and a huge budget," said Brunelle.

In his June 5 State of the City address, Bieter announced plans (but few details) for California investors J&M Land to redevelop the armory.

"This is not a project for the faint of heart or the light of wallet," said Erik Kingston, a neighborhood resident.

Kingston is a member of the Reserve Street Armory subcommittee, part of the East End Neighborhood Association, which worked with city officials to keep the armory from a 2008 public auction.

"We've had plenty of people interested in the property," said Brunelle. "But not so much the building. It's a good location, but the building is a challenge."

Brunelle said preserving the building's exterior walls, facade and unique bow-roof structure have been a priority for neighbors and city officials for years.

"It's probably a $2.5 million to $3 million investment just to get it up to code," he said. "That's not including tenant improvements."

While officials haven't said anything about J&M's intentions for the armory, neighbors in the area have been talking a great deal.

"I think it's lovely just the way it is," said Christine White, walking her dog past the armory. However, she would like to see the building brought back to life.

"I could see somebody with money doing a nightclub," she said. "And then during the day, a children's center with a big climbing wall, and maybe with a Boise State research facility in the remaining half."

Off Logan Street at the rear of the armory, Joy Wasson was also walking her dog.

"There are times when I've heard noises in there," said Wasson. "It's a little spooky. Sometimes I would see light shining out from inside there or hear what sounded like people inside."

Wasson said the building bothered her when she first moved in, especially given the overgrown trees and shrubs.

"But I'm a big supporter of restoring the old buildings in town," she said. "We've torn down so many historic buildings. I'd really like to see it become something for kids."

Kingston pointed to sample drawings, crafted by architect Steve Trout, of possibilities for the armory.

"The North End has Hyde Park. To the southeast, they have Bown Crossing," said Kingston. "This could be the Hyde Park of the East End."

Neighbors have suggested a beer garden with a covered patio friendly to neighborhood pets as an option.

"Wanting to do something with it is the easy part," said Brunelle. "Bringing that together with a visionary that is well-financed is the trick, and I think we're close to getting that done.

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