Simplot house to be torn down after failed donation to state

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Simplot family's hilltop mansion that briefly served as the residence of the Idaho governor, will soon be demolished, a spokesman said Monday.

Work to remove the 7,400-square-foot Boise home will take place over the next 10 days.

"No one has lived in the house since J.R. Simplot," said spokesman Ken Dey, speaking on behalf of the family.

J.R. Simplot, a billionaire who built his agricultural empire, in part, on selling french fry potatoes to McDonald's, donated the home to Idaho in 2004 when then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was in office.

"As governors go and come, they'll enjoy it, I hope," Simplot said at the time, with Kempthorne at his side in front of the mansion.

However, the home almost immediately became a financial burden for the state to maintain. State officials concluded that renovating the then-25-year-old home would cost much more than expected. Meanwhile assessors decided the home was worth 25 percent less than initially estimated.

Kempthorne attempted to raise $3 million for renovations and upkeep, but he was soon tapped to serve as U.S. Interior secretary and fundraising efforts fizzled.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter eventually won the race to replace the outgoing Republican, but he had his own personal history with the place house.

J.R. Simplot was his father-in-law before Otter's 1993 divorce from Gay Simplot. The new governor decided he was more comfortable at his 70-acre ranch west of Boise and has never lived in the Simplot home.

Eventually, the upkeep became regarded as a money pit among state lawmakers. Keeping the lights on cost the state $30,000 a year, with janitors adding another $12,000 more.

In 2013, the Legislature returned the home to the family and it has sat vacant along the Boise skyline ever since.

The family has no immediate plans for the site. Dey said the equally familiar flagpole that stood next to the house will remain on the grounds.

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