The Blaine County Housing Authority is putting out a call for companies interested in redeveloping the Lift Tower Lodge property at the southern entrance to Ketchum, hoping the responses shed more light on what to do with the aging motel. From now until the end of the month, the Housing Authority is asking interested contractors to submit their names and résumés.
The request doesn’t mean that other options, such as selling the property or making some structural improvements to the current building, are off the table. It’s only meant to give the Housing Authority a clearer idea of what a redevelopment project might look like, according to Housing Authority Executive Director Nathan Harvill.
The 14-room building, donated to the Housing Authority in 2014, is now used as affordable short-term housing for seasonal workers and people who are between homes. But a shortage of affordable long-term housing in the Wood River Valley—and an increase in job opportunities in less pricey parts of the state—has raised the question of whether the property could better serve the community another way. If the Housing Authority decides to go the redevelopment route, the site could be repurposed to include longer-term affordable housing units as well as commercial space.
“What we’re trying to do here is essentially save a spot for the people who live here and work here and make this county function,” Harvill said.
In some ways, selling the property and putting the money toward affordable housing somewhere else in the county would probably be “the path of least resistance,” Harvill said. But that path may not make the most sense economically: Whether the Housing Authority would be able to get as much housing for its buck elsewhere in the north valley is unknown.
Another option is to leave the lodge largely as is, though repairs—such as a new roof—would likely be needed.
The current housing situation at Lift Tower Lodge “isn’t really aligning with what our mission is—to be stewards of long-term affordable housing,” said Housing Authority Chairman Mason Fredrickson. But he emphasized the need for caution and thorough research before diving headfirst into big changes.
“We don’t want to get in over our heads,” Fredrickson said. “I think we’re going into uncharted territory for our organization and we want to be careful and thoughtful about all our options.”
The idea is still in the early stages, and the Housing Authority hasn’t had in-depth discussions yet about what the income limit for new housing units might be. At a meeting in August, ARCH Community Housing Trust Executive Director Michelle Griffith suggested targeting renters who earn 60 to 80 percent of area median income, between about $46,000 to $61,000 for a household of four. At ARCH’s completed Shenandoah Homes townhouse project in Hailey, eligibility is capped at 60 percent of area median income and the three-bedroom, 3.5-bath units rent for $950 per month.
But while the Housing Authority hasn’t settled on numbers yet, board members have agreed on one thing, Harvill said—they would like to see a mix of incomes in any new development.
“So many policies nationwide really segregate the ‘lower income housing’ from the rest of the community,” he said. “We don’t want anything that’s going to do that. We want something that’s going to be integrated, where people can be neighbors and build a stronger community bond.”
Harvill sees a chance for the redeveloped property to be not just an economic asset to the community but a cultural asset as well, a way to honor the “unique” culture of Sun Valley, where trust fund recipients live alongside ski lift operators.
“We want to try to preserve the spirit of that sort of community,” he said. “If that’s something that could be done through the use of this land and redevelopment of it, we’d be very happy to see that.”
The Housing Authority is also looking at putting commercial space on the first floor of the redeveloped site, making the building more consistent with other buildings nearby. The Housing Authority, which currently rents its offices, could potentially use the space as a more permanent home, Harvill said.
Whichever route the Housing Authority goes, “having the land is huge,” Fredrickson said.
“People will tell you, to have the land is the most difficult part,” he said.