Mountain Home gains a trade school through redevelopment

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Editor's Note: The following article was written by Catie Clark for Idaho Business Review. It was published on the IBR website April 15, 2021.

A building trades training school may be coming to the former Bealls Department Store building in downtown Mountain Home. The current owner of the building, the Mountain Home Urban Renewal Agency, accepted a proposal from Elmore Development LLC to renovate the building. The development firm’s partner in the project is Porter House Inc., a 25-year old training company that owns and operates the Shelley Adult Training Academy in Shelley.

MHURA issued an RFP in the fall of 2020 for the Bealls building, with a deadline of Feb. 26 for submittals. The agency accepted the proposal from Elmore Development and Porter House on March 23.

The school, which will be named the Mountain Home Adult Training Academy, will offer nine apprenticeship programs for carpenters, construction laborers, electricians, HVAC, iron workers, millwrights, pipefitters, plumbers and welders. “Our apprenticeship programs are approved by the U.S. Department of Labor,” said David Porter, who started the company with his wife Catherine in 1996. “We’ve been in Idaho since 2006…We started the Shelley Adult Training Academy in 2014.”

“Elmore Development is run by Mirazim Shakoori,” Porter explained. “He saw the opportunity with the Bealls building and contacted us to see if we would be interested. It’s been a good fit for both of us.” Elmore Development would do the renovation of the building, which Porter House would then lease on a long-term basis. “There will be eight classrooms in 15,000 square feet.”

The Bealls building is at the corner of 2nd and American Legion Blvd., in the original downtown of Mountain Home. The downtown core is aligned with the railroad tracks through the middle of the city. Outside of the downtown core, the street grid is oriented north-south-east-west. The building has been vacant since January 2020, when the store closed.

The Bealls Department Store chain was the original flagship brand of Stage Stores. Stage bought out Gordmans in 2017 when Gordmans was on the chopping block for liquidation. The acquisition of Gordmans was highly leveraged and left Stage Stores with a large debt burden.

Stage successfully reformatted Gordmans as a off-price discount store with a department store-feel, and it became Stage Stores’ biggest earner. The company established a successful partnership with Amazon and was safely in the black during the third quarter of 2019. In November 2019, Stage announced that all its Bealls stores would be converted into the more-profitable Gordmans format, including the three in Idaho: Blackfoot, Burley and Mountain Home. But the 2019 holiday retail season was not kind to Stage Stores and the company announced that the Mountain Home store would close.

MHURA bought the building at the end of 2011 for $235,000, according to the Mountain Home News. At that point, it had been empty for a decade. The building once housed a King’s department store. “King’s had been here for years when I moved to Mountain Home in 1992,” explained Randy Valley, the chair of the MHURA. “MHURA purchased the building for economic development and to eliminate blight. I wasn’t on the board then, but when Bealls came here, MHURA remodeled the store for them.”

“Bealls leased the building for eight years but on Jan. 31, 2020, they vacated the lease,” Valley added. “The sign went up in the store windows that they were closing for good before they informed MHURA that they were going out of business.”

Stage Stores did not survive the double whammy of the bad holiday season and COVID-19. By February, the company was closing store locations and laying off staff as its less-profitable locations. The pandemic shutdown sunk the business with its large debt obligation from buying Gordmans. Stage Stores filed for Chapter 11 with the intent to liquidate.

MHURA and Elmore Development have 120 days starting on March 23 to sign a mutually-acceptable exclusive-right-to-negotiate agreement. “It’s a time-consuming process,” Valley remarked. “The property requires a fair use appraisal, which is time-consuming to get. There are not a lot of people qualified in Idaho to do fair use appraisals…The school wants to launch online classes and to hold an open house in May.” Until then, lawyers for both parties will be busy drafting the ERN agreement while everyone else hurries up to wait.