After experiencing a downturn for the past few years with its historical amenities and watching its landmarks deteriorate as their futures remained uncertain, preservation officials in the city of Mesa now have the means to renovate them in the near future.
The passage of a $70 million bond by city voters on Tuesday paves the way to fund a number of projects for the city ranging from transforming some of the city’s closed school properties into parks and trails, as well as earmarking several million dollars for history’s sake, including $3 million to renovate the former post office on Macdonald Street and at least that much to renovate one of its crown jewels — The Buckhorn Mineral Baths on the northwest corner of East Main Street and Recker Road.
While city officials are preparing to negotiate a price to purchase the Buckhorn Baths from the estate’s trustee and Ted Sliger Jr., the son of former longtime owners Ted and Alice Sliger, the Mesa Historical Museum plans to move into the former post office building on Macdonald and Pepper within the next three years, once the building is completely renovated.
"This is a huge step of taking that next step of getting Mesa on a level with other cities its size for cultural and historical ammenities," said Lisa Anderson, executive director of the Mesa Historical Museum, which contracts without the city and whose income does not ebb and flow with the city’s budget.
"The passage of the bond was immensely important for future development in the city," Anderson added. "We want to attract the best and brightest people to come here."
As a large part of the Mesa Historical Museum’s collections and exhibits remain at its Lehi museum on Horne near the northwest edge of the city in the former Lehi School, the move to an about 5,000-square-foot space in the former post office across the street from the Arizona Museum of Natural History, will accommodate its exhibits there. The former post office building also will house its offices and part of the Arizona Museum of Natural History offices in the lower level, or basement of the building.
The plumbing, electrical and air conditioning units need to be renovated on the post office building before the historical museum can move into it, Anderson said.
The preservation of the Buckhorn, however, likely will happen in phases and later require private donations and fundraising to maintain aspects of it, according to Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.
The renovations on the Buckhorn will be funded from part of the $10.7 million in iMesa new park development projects generated by residents through the iMesa voting process. Residents suggested a desire to expand park systems and provide additional amenities, selecting the 15-acre Buckhorn Baths complex as the top vote getter and also upgrading Monterey Park, 7545 E. Monterey Road, and developing the Downtown Urban Plaza east of city hall.
With a large push to preserve the Buckhorn — known for its supposed healing powers and being the catalyst to begin luring Major League Baseball teams to Arizona for spring training in the late 1940s — saving the structure for its legacy as a roadside attraction and improving the grounds is a priority for the city once the bond monies are received in the months ahead.
Alex Finter, city councilman for Mesa’s District 2 where the Buckhorn is located, said that the Buckhorn, which is overseen by a trust, has had an appraisal done on the property but hasn’t shared it with the city yet.
The city also will have an appraisal done on the site, Finter said.
"I think the bond’s passage created a good opportunity to make that property a win for the city and the owner of the property," Finter said. "By law, the city cannot use taypayer money to pay a higher price than an appraisal value, so we’re hoping that we’ll be able to negotiate a fair price for the Buckhorn. We all want to see this get moving right away, and this would help the family (Ted Sliger Jr.) see the preservation efforts continue."
Finter said those reviewing the Buckhorn’ needs plan to submit a timeline for improvements and construction within a few weeks.
An international Little League field is one of the plans for the complex, but a priority also is having a building condition assessment report completed, Linoff said.
"We’re really heartened that voters passed the bond," Linoff said. "The first step was finding the money to preserve it. Now, the city can sit down and begin negotiating for the property. After that, stabilizing the site and determining what needs immediate attention will happen. The main building and the cabins definitely need attention, but they’re not falling down around its ears."
The preservation plan also includes ultimately repairing the 73-year-old bath house to its full functional splendor.
Ron Peters, a member of the Mesa Preservation Board said, "We’re excited as all get out that the bond issue passed. "We now have the money to save the Buckhorn."
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