The nearly century-old concrete frame was all that remained of the old Bonneville Apartments when developers cleared it out ahead of renovations.
Like a skeleton without any flesh, the five-story, historic building in downtown Idaho Falls looks stark but the foundation remains sturdy. Starting from the top down, construction manager Bateman-Hall is filling in the building’s vital organs — wall frames, electrical and plumbing.
“We stripped everything out,” said Rick Lawrence, the Bonneville project manager from Bateman-Hall. “We call this basically the rough-in stage. We know where the walls are going to be and now it’s time to get all of the modern conveniences in.”
The outside of the building will remain the same but everything inside will be replaced. Once renovations are complete in late 2019, the building will be a 35-apartment affordable housing complex, including space for three commercial tenants on the ground floor.
The Bonneville Hotel — opened in 1927 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 — most recently served as a privately owned apartment building, called the Bonneville Apartments, for many of Idaho Falls’ low-income residents. Former tenants were relocated in July.
The Bonneville Apartments’ owner, Kent Lott, signed a deal with the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency in 2015, giving the agency an exclusive option to buy the property. The Housing Company, a Boise-based subsidiary of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, then won a bid to develop the property. The Housing Company purchased the building from Lott in September.
The Housing Company is funding the project through low-income housing tax credits, historic preservation tax credits, grants and loans and about $2 million of its own money, Brad Cramer, director of Idaho Falls Community Development Services, told the Post Register in October. The majority of the new units will be rented exclusively to low-income residents.
Rental prices for the low-income units will be released a couple months before the project is completed, according to Blake Jumper, development manager at The Housing Company.
Four of the 35 units will be rented at market price.
“That’s a requirement of the funding that you have a couple market rate to have an income mix in there,” Jumper said.
Monthly rent for market-rate apartments in Bonneville County currently range from $565 for a one bedroom to $1,206 for a four bedroom, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research.
Renovations on the Bonneville Apartments began late last year. Old wall frames, wiring, piping and windows were cleared out. Two boilers — one 10,000 pounds and the other 8,000 pounds — were lifted out of the basement. More than 100 refrigerators and microwaves and a slew of former residents’ leftover belongings were recycled or otherwise disposed of. And “lots of asbestos” was eliminated, Lawrence said.
“Everything has been taken out of the building,” Lawrence said. “We’re literally reusing no sewer, no water pipe, no power or anything that was here before. It’s all going to be completely brand new, as if it were a new-construction home or apartment complex.”
Bateman-Hall gave a tour of the construction site on Thursday to community leaders and members of the media.
Workers installed wall frames on the fifth floor that show how the new studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will be arranged. One floor below, workers were installing wall framing and drilling holes in the 4-inch concrete floors to make way for new piping.
Rocky Huitt and Andrew James, contract workers from Bingham Mechanical, were operating a core drill that slowly punched through concrete on the fourth floor.
The holes are for plumbing, such as drains, vents and water lines. The fifth floor took a couple of weeks to drill, they said.
“There’s right around 1,000 (holes to drill) in the entire building,” Huitt said.
When asked what he thinks of the building, Huitt said, “It’s old. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like when they get it done.”
“I saw the apartments before they ripped them out ...” Huitt started to say, and James cut in, “It’s about time.”
Workers were excavating the bottom floor of the building, as well, where a children’s playroom, a laundry room and a tenant storage area, including bike storage, will be built.
Later in the project, two new stair towers and an elevator will be constructed. They will provide tenants access from the parking lot on the west side of the building to the upper floors.
The parking lot will have about 28 spaces. Any overflow will have to park on the street, Lawrence said.
There may be an increasing number of people parking in that area as city officials push for more housing development in downtown Idaho Falls.
Currently there are few housing options downtown and the apartments that do exist have waiting lists for potential tenants, said Catherine Smith, executive director of the Idaho Falls Downtown Development, who attended Thursday’s tour.
Downtown living options include Park Place, Teton Lofts and 504 Shoup Suites and Lofts. Park Place and Teton Lofts have some availability, according to Craigslist postings, but 504 Shoup Suites and Lofts is sold out.
“We have so many people that want to live downtown,” Smith said. “I have calls weekly from folks, both moving into the area and also folks in the area, that are curious what options are available for downtown housing. That’s where we’re going to see the real success of downtown. We’ve got work, play and now truly live downtown.”
It would’ve have been “almost a pure tragedy” if the city missed the opportunity to restore the Bonneville, Smith said.
“I think that this is an amazing project for downtown, to bring this historical building back to life and also meet the demand that we’re seeing for downtown housing in such a neat way,” she said.
Construction is set to wrap on the new Bonneville Apartments in October. For information on how to apply for a unit, contact The Housing Company at 1-800-361-5181 or visit www.thehousingcompany.org.