BOISE, Idaho — The hilltop mansion was a gift to Idaho from potato magnate J.R. Simplot, meant as a residence befitting the governor.
it's become a money pit, costing more annually to maintain than the
median price of a Boise-area home. What's more, Idaho's current governor
won't even live there.
Public outcry was on display this week at
a hearing over the house's future, where a majority of those who spoke
recommended either selling the place or returning it to Simplot's
But as Idaho has discovered, it's easier to take a
mansion than it is to give it back: The heirs to the self-made
billionaire who died in 2008 at age 99 don't want it.
family's position hasn't changed," said David Cuoio, a Simplot
spokesman, on Wednesday, referring to an earlier statement. "J.R.'s home
was given to the state with the understanding that it would be used as
the governor's house."
The place, along with its 30-by-50-foot American flag, was erected by Simplot back in 1980 not simply as a residence.
Connected to the Boise Valley floor by a narrow serpentine drive, the 7,100-square-foot home is meant to be noticed.
real estate parlance, location is everything, but that's also the
reason the "the mansion on the hill" sticks in the collective craw of
many Idaho residents.
"The governor of Idaho should be a person
that the citizens can relate to," said Robert Fries, a Boise resident.
"The governor of Idaho should not be placed on a pedestal on a hill,
looking down on everyone."
Simplot handed over the keys in 2004,
but it took just two years for its lofty perch to become an issue in the
2006 race to be governor: The Democratic candidate promised he'd never
live in a house that seemed to elevate a politician above the ranks of
the common man.
Current chief executive C.L. "Butch" Otter won,
but the Republican also eschewed the mansion, preferring his riverside
ranch west of Idaho's capital. There's some personal baggage, too: Otter
is Simplot's former son-in-law, having divorced his daughter back in
And then there's the cost.
Just to maintain the
37-acre grounds, the state will pay about $80,000 this year, part of a
cost-sharing agreement with the Simplot family that also covers adjacent
property it still owns.
The list goes on: Electricity, $30,000;
replacement flags: $5,100; janitors to clean up after rare occasions the
house is used for state events: $12,000.
Altogether, the maintenance tab through next June is forecast at $177,400 — $40,000 north of the median Ada County home.
Consequently, a fund to maintain the mansion has dwindled to just $900,000, from $1.5 million in 2005.
"It seems to me to be a waste of money," said Barbara Kemp, another Boise resident.
The mansion isn't without defenders.
resident Michael Kostanecki thinks Idaho should keep it as a tribute to
Simplot, who rose from a modest childhood in Declo to found a
corporation that supplied McDonald's with its golden french fries.
"For the life of me, I can't believe we would let this symbol of Idaho
go to some developer," Kostanecki pleaded Tuesday with the five-member
Governor's Housing Committee.
They find themselves in a tight
spot: not offending Simplot's family by looking a gift horse in the
mouth, while still staunching the cash drain.
The chairman, Republican state Sen. Chuck Winder, prefers keeping it.
Democratic Sen. Les Bock, another member, favors disposal.
another month, they'll be taking public comment on what to do, but
reaching a conclusion everyone can live with still won't be easy, Bock
"At least we have some input into what we should consider doing next," he said.