The city says the reopening of Moon’s Kitchen and Mai Thai is entirely dependent on the building owner
div>Wondering how long it will be until you can get back to Mai Tai for a bento box or a cocktail? Or to the Moon Kitchen for Eggs Benedict?
Restaurants will likely not reopen for at least two months. It could be closer, though the city says that’s entirely up to the owner of the 121-year-old Union Block building downtown, where the two companies have operated for years.
The two-story Union Block, completed in 1902 at 730 W. Idaho Street, is a Boise landmark. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its sandstone facade is a fixture of the downtown streetscape.
The city closed the building Thursday over concerns about its structural integrity stemming from a years-long project to build a new basement plagued by delays. City officials say the owner did not address their concerns, and they “can’t keep kicking this can down the road any longer.”
But the owner says he was shocked by the city’s move to condemn it.
Regardless, dozens of restaurant workers are out of work.
The city surrounds the building and the surrounding area
The city condemned the building after officials inspected the place and left with concerns about its structural integrity.
At the city’s request, the Ada County Highway District also closed the sidewalk, on-street parking and the right lane to traffic next to the building on Idaho Avenue between Capitol Avenue and 8th Street.
The building has been under construction for years with temporary support shelved after owner Ken Howell won city approval in 2018 to create an additional underground floor. The basement renovation was supposed to take about a year.
“After five years, we are concerned about these temporary measures and the long-term effects they could have on the stability of the building,” said Tim Kane, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development Services. “We really felt we needed to close the building to protect people. We would never, under any circumstances, put public safety at risk.”
Notices posted last week on the doors of the building at 730 W. Idaho St. say “Do not enter. Do not enter.” Unsafe to occupy.
The city issued an ordinance citing several subsections of the city’s hazardous buildings code, including instances where any part of a building is “likely to fail, dislodge, or collapse.” Howell, who also owns Parklane Management Co., has 30 days to obtain permits for the work needed to stabilize the building and 60 days to complete repairs.
He told the Idaho Statesman it was a “total surprise” with “no prior announcement.”
Howell owns two other historic buildings downtown: the Idaho Building at 8th and Bannock streets and the Idanha Hotel at 10th and Main streets, which he converted into apartments and commercial space in 2001.
The owner says the building is not vulnerable to collapse
The temporary support columns supporting the Union Block are made of steel, and have not corroded or changed, Howell said. They are designed to support massive loads, he said, and are as supportive, if not more supportive, than the original wooden columns that have sustained the building for more than a century.
“I’m just trying to understand what their specific concerns are and why they feel like the building last week was good and this week is not,” he said Tuesday by phone. “The contention is basically that the whole thing is going to collapse today or tomorrow, and that’s not the case.”
He said he had not received a copy of the order as of Monday evening, and that he would work nonstop to reopen the building.
Meanwhile, businesses at home, including Mai Thai, Moon’s Kitchen and Balsam Brands, will have to fend for themselves. Both restaurants are closed.
“Obviously the most important thing for tenants is to restore occupancy immediately,” Howell said.
Moon’s Kitchen blamed Howell in an Instagram post on Friday, saying he “did not follow through on what was necessary to keep the building open” and that “due to his negligence” the business was closed and its employees were out of work.
Mai Tai owner Billy Bothikamjorn said he has about 35 part-time and full-time employees.
“Now, they need a job,” he added. “And the economy is not good.”
The Asian restaurant, which opened in 2003, had already planned to close temporarily after a kitchen fire on Nov. 7 damaged its space. Pothikamjorn said he’s not sure when he’ll be able to complete repairs after the building closes.
“We want to move forward and get the work done, but they don’t want anyone in the building. It’s a double problem,” he told the Statesman by phone. “It’s the loss of income — everything.”
The Mai Tai kitchen fire was not related to the closure
Bothekamgorn said he met with city building inspector Karl Madsen on Thursday, who informed him of the closure. This was two days after the kitchen fire, but the matter condemning the building was not related to the fire, according to Kane.
“It’s very disappointing, of course, for them as businesses, but they realize the seriousness of the situation,” Kane told reporters on Monday. “I made it very clear to them that the speed at which Mai Thai and Moon’s Kitchen can reopen depends 100% on the owner (of the building). If the owner is able to provide us with plans that show that this building will stabilize in a certain way tomorrow, we will review it tomorrow.”
He said the city asked Howell and his engineer for additional information regarding the building’s structural stability and received a report Wednesday from Howell’s engineer that Kane said failed to address the city’s concerns. The report prompted an inspection on Thursday, which led to the building being closed.
“This is a case where we ask the owner’s structural engineer to show us that this building is safe, and we haven’t gotten that assurance,” Keane said. “We said: That’s enough. “It is time to close it.”
BoiseDev reported in July that the basement renovation project was up to a third structural engineer and that city building inspectors ordered work halted several times, including when large cracks appeared in the wall of the Balsam Brands office space, above ground.
Keane said his staff expressed to Howell the importance of pursuing reforms urgently, “and I suspect he will do so.” No fines, penalties or citations were issued to Howell. A city spokesman said the tenants may seek compensation.
Union Block “an important historical building”
The Union Block was designed by Boise architect John E. Tourellotte in 1899, according to a project by Idaho Architecture, and was completed three years later.
It is made of brick and sandstone sourced from the local Tablerock quarry, which was used in the construction of several other buildings in downtown Boise, including the Capitol. The Richardsonian Romanesque-style structure features a 125-foot facade with five arches and numerous windows.
During the 1960s, the building fell in and out, and was in danger of demolition, the city said. A few decades later, in the 1990s, the city awarded Howell a contract to restore it. It was reopened five years later.
The Union Block and other buildings like it downtown have great significance for the city’s character, Kane said. He said the city has a great interest in protecting it.
“You could argue it’s the most important historic building downtown,” he said. “If for some reason we lose her, it will be an incredible loss for Boise.”
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