Sunday, April 18, 2021
Hailey Fire Short Circuits Hopes for Workforce Housing
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Thursday, March 18, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Wednesday was the day that construction workers had planned to start framing the Croy Street Exchange Building to provide 17 units of affordable workforce housing that tenants could begin moving into four months from now in July.

But, as dawn broke Wednesday morning, the building had disappeared from Hailey’s downtown skyline. Instead, soggy charred timber was strewn across its former footprint, the aftermath of an early morning fire the day before on Tuesday, March 16.

“I was stunned to see what had happened,” said Michelle Stennett, who co-owns the building with builder Paul Conrad. “By Tuesday afternoon, when I was able to drive back from Boise where I was in  legislative session, it was nothing but scorched earth and rubble.”

Stennett was in a legislative committee session when she got an early morning call from Hailey Fire Chief Mike Baledge. Since she doesn’t have her phone on during session, she ignored it. But, as the messages began piling up, she stepped out into the hall to check them.

“What!?” she said in shock.

The building, built in 1983 in the heart of Hailey’s downtown, was purchased by Stennett’s husband--the late State Sen. Clint Stennett--and Bill Norris in the mid-2000s. It provided offices for small businesses until December 2020 when Michelle Stennett announced it would be turned into workforce housing.

“We cleared everything with the city and were so excited. The inspectors said it was a very strongly built building and it provided a nice clean transition for workforce housing in a great spot in downtown Hailey.”

Workers began gutting the building just over two weeks ago. At the time of the fire, it was an empty box, Stennett said.

“There was no water, no gas because we were going to have to reconfigure all that. They took pictures of the interior to show the city their final plans and the building was completely empty. There was nothing in it—no rags, no chemicals, no contaminants. Nothing left behind.”

An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined the Idaho State Fire Marshal Tuesday afternoon in picking through the soggy pieces to try to determine how the fire might have started.

Hailey Fire Chief Mike Baledge said he got the call at 5:10 a.m. Tuesday and, by the time he arrived on the scene two minutes later, the two-story building was fully engulfed with flames shooting 40 feet into the night sky.

It collapsed seven minutes later. The heat was so intense, he said, that it broke windows and melted plastic and vinyl in buildings and cars across the street.

“I’m just extraordinarily grateful to all of the firefighters who helped contain it, as it was surrounded by a service station, liquor store and natural gas company,” said Stennett. “We have some great firefighters here.”

Stennett said no one offered any suggestions Tuesday about how the fire started.

“All the people were wonderful trying to piece through what happened. It’s up to those professionals to determine what we do from here,” she said.

Stennett said it’s too early to tell whether she and Conrad will be able to resume their hopes of pursuing workforce housing on the site.

“I’m saddened that our efforts to put some workforce housing up in Hailey have at best been  postponed,” she said. “It’s so sad because there’s such a desperate need for it, but we have to make sure we can afford to do that at this point. Now, we have to go through insurance and inspectors and stabilize the site—it’s too early to say what we can and can’t do.”

 

 

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