Friday, May 4, 2007

Past to be torched next week

Another piece of local history and affordable housing to vanish

Express Staff Writer

The old Cliffview Apartments will be torched May 12 to make way for new development. Photo by David N. Seelig

Another piece of local history will go up in smoke next week when the Ketchum and Sun Valley fire departments torch the old Cliffview Apartments, also known as the Racquet Club, in a training exercise.

Owner David McDonald, a Ketchum resident, donated the apartments, not the property, to the departments. The building will be torched Saturday, May 12.

Ketchum planner Beth Robrahn said the full history of the complex is not on file at Ketchum City Hall, but she pointed out it was the first place she lived in the Wood River Valley in the summer of 1992.

A development called Hourglass Townhomes was approved for the site by the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission in 2005, Robrahn said. It will consist of 11 townhouses in two buildings, one facing Wood River Drive and the other facing Williams Street.

For Keith Perry, co-owner of Perry's Resturant in Ketchum, the burning of the old building is a smidgen nostalgic. Perry and his wife, Paula, owned six of the units for several decades. They rented them to their employees as affordable housing.

"For years it was affordable housing for me," Perry said. "I would have kept them forever, but, basically, I didn't have a choice. The association had a rule that if 75 percent of the owners wanted to sell, everybody would sell. A bunch of investors came in and bought everything, and the idea was that they could double their money in a few years, and they did."

Perry said he paid $19,000 per 300-square-foot unit when he bought his units between 1986 and 1988. He sold them about 15 years later for almost $100,000 each.

That said, Perry observed that the complex was poorly built, and his units were a constant maintenance headache.

"It was just the value of the land," he said. "I can't tell you how many people I've heard say, 'Oh, that's the first place I lived when I moved to Ketchum.'"

Perry said affordable housing continues to be an issue for his and other local businesses. For the time being, however, he is blessed with a solid workforce.

"It's hard," he said. "I've basically done really well for the last five or six years. I do a lot of, basically, a lot of Hispanic help. Two or three of them have been able to buy homes in Hailey, and they commute. Plus, I've got a lot of high school help.

"For the last five years—knock on wood—it's always a challenge, but it's been good for me."

The live-fire training exercise on May 12 will allow hands-on training in extreme but controlled fire conditions.

"This type of training property is hard to come by these days in Ketchum," said Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle in a press release. "We are losing all of our open spaces and other training facilities that are crucial to the continued training for first responders. That is why we really want the community to know how much these donations mean to the city's continual commitment to the safety of our residents, visitors and responders."

The exercise will begin around 8:30 a.m. and will last roughly seven hours. Local residents are invited to watch, and the intersection at Williams Street and Wood River Drive will be closed.

Neighbors are also encouraged to close their windows and doors.

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