BLACKFOOT – The Blackfoot Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) met in the Nuart Theater Tuesday morning to take a tour of the recent upgrades to that historic building downtown and to approve $1.2 million over the next three years to renovate the Milmor Hotel.
The Milmor was built in 1916 and was named the Eccles Hotel. It included a barber shop and a restaurant along with retail space. Taking up most of the west side of the first block of North Broadway in Blackfoot’s downtown, the iconic brick building has a three-foot-thick foundation and a footprint of 44,000 square feet.
Once a major stop for tourists on their way to Yellowstone National Park, the Milmor hosted well-known figures like Idaho Gov. William Borah and author Ernest Hemingway.
According to Justin Oleson, manager of the Milmor LLC, the business proposing the remake of the building, the projected remake will include retail space and residential apartments on the upper floors. The renovation is estimated to cost approximately $3 million.
Oleson has been working with BURA for several months on the financial details of a grant.
“The bank said they are ready to commit to financing the project if BURA will commit,” Oleson told the agency’s board Tuesday. The agency approved a grant of $1.2 million to be spread over three years to help the renovation. The BURA funds will go toward covering loan payments during the completion of the construction.
With the completion of the Nuart Theater upgrades, BURA has no other large projects scheduled. The agency has given grants to several successful large business endeavors during its multi-decade history including the Nuart, Premier Technologies, CAL Ranch, and the shopping center development at Walmart as well as the Blackfoot Movie Mill and numerous facade-improvement grants.
“Right now, to save the Milmor is the only game in town,” remaked BURA board member Bart Brown.
“Otherwise, it just becomes a hole,” added board member Chase McAllister, “and then who will even pay the bill to tear it down?”
Along with helping with the Milmor renovation, BURA will continue to fund facade grants within its two business districts.
The BURA-funded makeover of the Nuart Theater is in the last gasps of completion. Members of the board of directors for the Blackfoot Community Players, who own the theater, and Zac Fillmore, project manager for the Nuart construction, hosted the BURA meeting within the theater’s auditorium. They gave BURA a tour of the upgrades to the building after the business portion of the meeting was over.
“First, the board of the community players wants to thank BURA for their support over the last three years,” said Sharon Hoge, president of the community theater group. “We had a soft opening during Celebrate Blackfoot, with a great show and local talent. We filled the auditorium and we’re happy to be back in business.”
After Hoge spoke, Fillmore gave a detailed presentation on the work which was funded mostly through BURA funds.
“When we started talking to BURA in 2016,” Fillmore began, “we were just looking at fire safety and better, safer egress; and you came back to us with a bigger vision than this.” He then showed the theater group’s original proposal and compared that with the annexation to the building that BURA helped propose.
The new annex gives the theater its own in-house capacity for storage and room for a modern ventilation and air conditioning system for the first time.
“We couldn’t use the Nuart in the summer,” Hoge remarked. “The building was built a 100 years ago and it had no air conditioning. The actors on the stage just couldn’t function, it was so hot. Now with the new A/C, the people who were here for the show last week were saying they were actually cold compared to outside.”
The Nuart project cost approximately $1 million to add fire safety exits for the first time for the basement, stage, and front seating in the auditorium. The project also added a state-of-the-art fire alarm system, adequate restroom capacity, fire egress, set storage, revamped dressing room space, modern ventilation and air conditioning, and a conference room which will also be available for public meetings.
“We’ve done a whole lot of work and made a whole lot of dust,” Fillmore said. “We’ve taken a multi-year project and finished it on time and on budget.”
The project is at the end of its funding as it nears its very final steps. “We haven’t had any income from ticket sales while the Nuart has been closed for this project,” Hoge explained. The building needs approximately $18,000 in the near term to finish the final steps to meet state building codes and pass its final safety inspections. BURA approved an add-on to the Nuart grant for that amount so the Nuart can be completed.
The theater will be opening its doors for its first production in two years with the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” in September.
Blackfoot Mayor Updates
Mayor Marc Carroll gave BURA his monthly update on city improvement projects. “We have now completed the new storm water drain over on Parkway and Jensen Grove Drive. We’ll be doing coring tests next week.”
Parts of the resurfaced roads where the new drains have been installed are still closed temporarily while the new asphalt pavement cured and road compaction and coring tests are conducted to assure the new roads meet state engineering standards.
“We also have Airport Road closed right now over by Ridge Crest Elementary,” Carroll explained. “We received funding for child pedestrian safety improvements and we’re putting in a new crossing, sidewalk along with new curbs, gutters and drains. We will have all of that work done before school starts.
“We’re also getting ready to start phase II of the upgrades to the waste water treatment plant,” the mayor added. “We budgeted for $12 million and the bids came in around $15 million, so we’ve been working on getting that worked out and I believe we’ll have that situation solved by the end of this week.”