After much fanfare of a potential renovation, the future of an iconic downtown building is in limbo.
The Carnegie Library’s future looked bright in 2019. After years of sitting dormant after a 1980s renovation turned it into a law office, Boise-based education technology firm Ednetics purchased the building and vowed to renovate it into new offices for their staff and an event space after a top to bottom revamp.
Then, things changed course. In the final moments of the 2021 legislative session, the state moved to purchase the building to expand the University of Idaho’s Boise campus of its law school. This all got a shakeup a few months later when the state decided instead to change course and have the State Board of Education lease the now-defunct Concordia Law School building in June.
So, what’s happening with the Carnegie Library? It’s unknown.
Shawn Swanby, Ednetics’ CEO, did not return three calls requesting more information on the future of the 1905-era building. It is still owned by an LLC connected to him and it does not appear to be publicly listed for sale.
Ednetics growth derailed initial plan
When the sale of the building to the state was announced, Swanby told BoiseDev his company’s growth had outpaced the available space on the first floor of the building.
“We had originally planned on moving Ednetics into the first floor of the Carnegie Library building,” Swanby said last year. “Due to the growth of our operations in the Boise area, the space was no longer adequate for the company’s needs and, honestly, didn’t feel like the best use of the building.”
Swanby’s Investment Group also bought a parcel behind the library, which hosts an abandoned Home Federal Bank branch and a parking lot, kitty-corner from the Statehouse. Swanby still currently owns this parcel as well.
The Idaho Dept. of Lands bought the property from Home Federal in 2000, and leased it back to the bank, which closed in the last decade. Adelia Simplot bought the property from the State amidst a push by the state to liquidate commercial properties in Boise. Simplot sold it to Swanby in 2020. Both properties were added to a CCDC urban renewal district last year. The bill language did not indicate the Home Federal property would be included in the deal.
Preservationists hoping for action
Boiseans with an eye toward history are hoping the building will get a new lease on life.
Preservation Idaho Executive Director Paula Benson said her organization was over the moon when Swanby purchased the Carnegie Library and hired an experienced firm out of state to oversee the renovation using the federal government’s historic preservation tax credit program. She said it’s clear he had a passion for the building and wanted to preserve it.
She was a little let down when the state was going to renovate it instead, but Benson said the City of Boise’s ordinances requiring approval for major changes to the outside of the building kept her optimistic it would be renovated in a way preservations hoped for. But, now that the building’s future is uncertain she’s not sure what will happen to it.
“We are hopeful, but certainly concerned,” Benson said. “…Our hope is between the owner, between the city of Boise and the citizens of Boise and organizations like ours that any future owner would be interested in maintaining the historic integrity of the building and ensuring it is kept in good shape on the inside and the outside so it can continue to be a landmark.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified how the state gained access to the Concordia building for the law school. It has been corrected to reflect that the State Board of Education approved the University of Idaho to lease the building.