Boise City Council Votes to Relocate The Cabin to Julia Davis Park 

click to enlarge - Kurt Zwolfer, pictured, is the executive director of The Cabin literary center. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Kurt Zwolfer, pictured, is the executive director of The Cabin literary center.
Sandwiched between a charged crowd and the Boise City Council on Feb. 26, The Cabin Executive Director Kurt Zwolfer took a more conciliatory tone than he had in an email he sent Feb. 22 to the literary center's supporters.

"What has the least short-term disruption and the highest long-term viability?" he asked.

In his Feb. 22 email blast, Zwolfer wrote neither he nor The Cabin had heard from the City of Boise in weeks about the latest plans for its historic building in light of the development of a new main branch library that would be constructed 30 feet from where The Cabin currently sits. The message called for clarity from city leaders, and on Feb. 26, Zwolfer and The Cabin got it after an epic public hearing that lasted almost five hours. At the end of the marathon, the Boise City Council voted unanimously to relocate the entire structure, at an estimated cost of $650,000, to the east end of Julia Davis Park.

"I think the process has been good, in that we're here," said Council Member Scot Ludwig before moving to relocate The Cabin. "I think we do need to exact a position."

The hearing's stated purpose was to gather public opinion about whether The Cabin should stay or be moved, and city staff opened the proceedings with some mock-ups of what The Cabin and the updated main branch library could look like together.

"We want to create ... a real stable anchor for downtown Boise," said Library Director Kevin Booe.

The public and even the council, however, were split on whether juxtaposing the new, modern design of the library with the rustic exterior of The Cabin was attractive or even good for The Cabin's operations. Keeping The Cabin in its current location would have put the two structures within a few feet of each other, and many suggested that their close proximity would harm one organization's operations while obstructing the other's view.

"This world-class building," Zwolfer said of the new library, "was designed to not have The Cabin there."

Zwolfer noted the similarities between the missions of The Cabin and the library, and much of the public testimony was in support of both organizations, with strong feelings on either side of the question of moving The Cabin. Relocating the building to the east end of Julia Davis Park was the preference of The Cabin and many others, who saw the new library's presence as incompatible with the needs of the nonprofit literary center.

"Programs need a safe and tranquil location," said Catherine Kyle, a writer who works frequently with The Cabin.

"I believe that you should listen to [The Cabin's] board of directors and the director of The Cabin, and you should move it to the east end location," said Boisean Sam Sandmire.

Others, including some historians, objected to the move on the grounds that The Cabin, built during the Great Depression using timber sourced from across Idaho and situated at a historic crossing of the Boise River, is an integral part of that space. Some suggested that it should be the library, and not The Cabin, that should be changed.

"It's an affront to voters, who deserve to have their say in such an expensive project [as the new library]," said concerned citizen Ken Winkleman.

"The proposal to move The Cabin disrespects the city and our character," said Wildlands Defense Director of Public Lands Katie Fite.

The back-and-forth was unsettling to many on the City Council, including members Lisa Sanchez and Elaine Clegg, both of whom initially supported leaving The Cabin at its current site, but, in light of the choice before them, changed their positions. Sanchez admitted she isn't enamored with the look of the new library, but was thinking of the "good things [the staff at The Cabin] do for the community."

"Push comes to shove, though, I'm thinking of the people first," she said.

Clegg said moving The Cabin could be a chance to repair some of the damage caused by what some have charged was a lackluster public process leading up to the approval of the new library.

"I don't want us to repeat the mistakes we've made with public engagement," she said.

Council Member Holli Woodings felt the debate demanded "choosing two" when it came to The Cabin's location, purpose and structure.

"When you look at the structure and how that structure was maintained," she said. "You can't help but think about the literary center."

The east end of Julia Davis Park will pose challenges of its own to The Cabin—that spot is close to a cancer memorial, and there could be a risk of flooding—but after the council voted to approve moving the building, Zwolfer said it would open a new chapter for his literary organization.

"We got clarity," he said. "The Cabin is poised to grow its programs and influence."
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