Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Golden housing opportunity needs quick thinking

An unexpected blessing in disguise has dropped into the city's lap. The question is whether the City Council will act quickly before it slips away.

On Oct. 4, the Internal Revenue Service is scheduled to auction off the Bavarian Village condo units in west Ketchum that were forfeited in a federal drug smuggling conviction. The three buildings with 14 units could fetch anywhere from $1 million to $4 million, the high-end bid if an investor decided to raze the structures and redevelop the property for yet more condos for part-time residents.

There's an alternative, however. If Ketchum puts on its thinking cap, and quickly devises creative financing methods, it could successfully bid on the property and transform it into community housing.

While the city ponders, others already are acting. The Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority and the Advocates for Real Community Housing have been busy on the phones. ARCH has tentatively lined up $100,000 that would allow bidding on the property. ARCH leader Rebekah Helzel has sent a plea to the City Council for a special meeting to discuss how Ketchum could bid on the project.

According to Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority Executive Director Michael David, the city's in-lieu fund—fees paid by developers in lieu of providing affordable housing in their projects—now totals $400,000.

The city also has at its disposal a successful case history of creative financing by borrowing funds for the Guy Coles Skate Park project, then repaying it.

Housing director David estimates the Bavarian Village could become housing for 35 occupants—a significant step toward providing nearby housing for workers who now are forced into long commutes as far away as Shoshone and Twin Falls.

Anyone who has watched the demographic character of Ketchum change can't say with a straight face the city needs condos more than it needs housing for workers. Faced with this opportunity to pick up existing housing and the promised the energy of citizens' groups to make it happen, the City Council should not lapse into its customary mode of wanting more facts, more study, and more delay.

What the Ketchum City Council should say instead is: We want it to happen; count on us. Just that tone of action would send a message that the city was in for the long haul on the property.

Lost opportunity has been the trademark of this council. Twice in recent months it lost the promise of two hotels for the room-short area.

Now, prospects for acquiring available near-downtown housing for workers is staring council members in the face.

Will the council blink or act?

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