Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Louie's is still homeless

Fate of Ketchum church has been debated for years

Express Staff Writer

The fate of the First Congregational Church commonly known as Louie's remains an unknown, following a public hearing and City Council discussion in Ketchum this week.

Many attendees at the Ketchum City Council meeting Monday, Nov. 21, said they support moving the building to the south end of the city-owned Park & Ride lot, at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads.

The site would adjoin the Wood River Community YMCA's planned recreational facility, set to break ground next spring.

"In the future, there's going to be a tremendous amount of synergy on this site," Jim Ruscitto, architect and Ketchum Historic Preservation Commission chairman, told the council. "Because of how this fits into the future of the Park & Ride lot, we as a commission are in favor of this site."

Jim Jaquet, board member of the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society, said the organization's preferred site also is the Park & Ride lot.

"It's very important from an operational standpoint to have that activity," he said.

The half-acre piece of land proposed for the church is considered too small and awkwardly shaped for parking, housing or other uses, Ruscitto said.

If Louie's and other historic buildings are not located there, it would likely be landscaped, he added.

Locating the building at the south end of East Avenue is another option under consideration.

Several people opposing that site wrote letters to the city. Other of like mind expressed their opinion during the hearing.

Vicky Graves said she hopes the city won't spend any money on the building, which was constructed in the late 1800s.

"It's junk. I don't think it's worth saving," she said.

Floyd McCracken, co-founder of the group Save the Church, said the organization is reaching its fund-raising objectives and won't ask the city for money. He has suggested the building could be used as a community center.

Mayor Ed Simon, who disclosed that he lives near the East Avenue site, reiterated his belief that locating the building there would be illegal.

"I believe case law is even more clear (now)," he said. "You can't put a permanent structure in the city's right of way."

A third option discussed is to put the building on a 5-acre, city-owned parcel at the north end of the Park & Ride lot.

Ruscitto said that site was one of seven he initially explored.

"What I heard from some of you is that end of the lot might be (better used) for community housing and parking," he said. "The south end is a sliver and has more limited options for use."

Councilman Ron Parsons said the north end might be a good site if the city in the future wants to consider making a nature center or preserve on that land.

Scott Boettger, executive director of the Wood River Land Trust, said Tuesday that he has had informal discussions with the city regarding that parcel of land.

"There's property the city currently owns along the river. I'm very interested in using that as a focal point ... and creating greater public access," he said. "We'd love to further evaluate and explore those options."

Parsons added Tuesday that the concept was "very preliminary" but he'd like to study it in the future.

Council members wanted more information on each site before making any decisions on the church.

"I am looking for a location, but I'm not sure we found it yet," said Councilwoman Terry Tracy. "We're spending a good deal of money for downtown revitalization. I don't understand how you can revitalize a core by taking out cultural (buildings) and replacing them with banks. I think it should stay in the core."

She and other council members want to get an opinion from consultant Tom Hudson, a specialist in community-based economic development who is under contract with the city to help formulate a downtown master plan.

Councilman Baird Gourlay said he was leaning toward the south end of the Park & Ride lot but he wants to know more about the lease's terms, parking and how it would be coordinated with the YMCA during the recreation facility's construction.

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