Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Private buyer wants Louie's

Historic building would be renovated, moved and used for retail

Express Staff Writer

A private party has expressed interest in buying Ketchum's old First Congregational Church, commonly referred to as Louie's after a pizza restaurant that once occupied the building. The Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society has been trying for years to raise enough money to renovate and find a home for the building, while some residents have doubted its value and said it should be torn down. If the sale is approved, the building would be moved to the corner of East Avenue and Sixth Street in Ketchum. Photo by Chris Pilaro

Now might be a good time to stop calling the old First Congregational Church building in Ketchum by its former name of Louie's.

A private party, Old Mill Development LLC, has expressed interest in buying the historic building—once home to Louie's Pizza & Italian Restaurant—to renovate it, move it and open it up for an unnamed retail use.

"We've received a proposal by a private party to purchase the church ... and restore it with private funds," Jim Jaquet, a member of the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society, told the Ketchum City Council Monday, June 5. "Because of the public nature of this project—it has been going on for six years—we thought we'd take it to the City Council."

The prospective buyer would relocate the building to Sixth Street and East Avenue next to the Picket Fence, which is also owned by Old Mill Development.

The residence on the corner would be torn down to accommodate the old church.

"It achieves our objective of resorting the exterior to its original condition sooner rather than later," Jaquet said.

The building has been stored at the city-owned Park & Ride lot since 1999 while its fate is debated.

"It's time to find it a home," said real estate broker Jed Gray, representing Old Mill Development. "We have an individual interested in preserving some historic structures. She's willing to restore this and protect it in perpetuity."

The move would put it near the Ketchum Grill, the Picket Fence and the Ketchum Ore Wagon Museum, creating an impromptu historic block downtown.

"Her goal is to protect the character here," Gray said. "You start to get a group of people thinking that way and you might actually have a block that ends up looking historical."

Gray noted that one tree on the property might have to be removed to get the building situated.

"The idea is to frame the church with the trees," he said. "The intent of the owner is to preserve as many of the trees as we can."

He added that there might be room for another historic structure to take up residence behind the church.

The Historical Society has raised approximately $50,000 of the $250,000 it would cost to restore the 1883 structure, Jaquet said, but it still hadn't found it a permanent location.

One proposal was to plop it down in the middle of East Avenue as part of a reconfigured downtown Ketchum. A different historic structure could still be used if local residents support that aspect of the city's proposed downtown master plan.

"I don't know what's going to happen on East Avenue," said Councilman Baird Gourlay. "We could put something there in the future. It doesn't have to be Louie's."

Jaquet said he will ask donors if they want their money back or if it can go toward other historic preservation efforts.

"This opportunity came out of the blue," said Jim Ruscitto, Ketchum Historic Preservation Commission chairman. "It's a great opportunity and it can happen right now."

The details of the sale are undetermined, Gray said.

"How we transact the exchange of the property hasn't been discussed yet," he said after the meeting.

If the exchange goes through, the project would have to go through the Planning & Zoning Commission design review process. Work could begin in fall.

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