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Downtown location is must for City Hall, says commission

Mike Fann, a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Facility Optimization and Property Usage (FOPU), points to boundaries that he said signify downtown Prescott. The commission has been meeting to discuss a possible new location for Prescott City Hall, and agreed this week that the city offices should remain in the downtown area. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Mike Fann, a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Facility Optimization and Property Usage (FOPU), points to boundaries that he said signify downtown Prescott. The commission has been meeting to discuss a possible new location for Prescott City Hall, and agreed this week that the city offices should remain in the downtown area. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Downtown Prescott and city hall apparently are inseparable.

Although some of the details are still to come, one thing was certain from the most recent discussion of the committee looking into optimizing the city’s properties: City hall belongs downtown.

And for most of the committee members, that means within two blocks or so of the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.

The Mayor’s Commission on Facility Optimization and Property Usage (FOPU) met Wednesday morning, Feb. 13, to continue its discussion on possible locations for a new city hall.

The eight-member board came to no specific recommendations about the exact location of a new city hall, but it did firm up the requirements.

“One thing we’ve all agreed on is city hall needs to stay downtown,” committee member Mike Fann said, adding, “How do we accomplish that?”

That has been a perplexing question for committee members, who have brainstormed a number of ideas, such as using the old Goodwin Street Post Office building, the Prescott Gateway Mall, or the Prescott Rodeo Grounds.

‘DEAD END’ ON POST OFFICE

Although the committee previously asked for more information on the costs of renovating the old post office building as a new city hall, Committee Chairman Justin Scott reported this week that the post office idea turned out to be a non-starter.

“The post office ran into a dead end,” Scott said. “It doesn’t fit.”

Scott added that he believes the post office building would be more appropriate for private development.

A Postal Service representative told the city in November that an evaluation was underway to determine whether the old downtown building should be sold, and operations moved to a smaller and more efficient building. An announcement on the Postal Service’s decision is still pending.

After the meeting, City Manager Michael Lamar said he initially intended to get more specifics on the possible costs of renovating the 1930s-era building to serve as a city hall.

“But when we started looking at it, it was cost-prohibitive,” Lamar said, noting that renovation details such as replacing old plaster comes with considerable costs and complications.

DEPARTMENT CONSOLIDATION

Commission members agreed this week that their work is wrapping up — at least for the time being.

Although the commission is expected to conduct one more meeting, Mayor Greg Mengarelli, who spearheaded the effort, agreed that the group should go dormant for the next several months while city officials work on some of the recommended details.

For instance, there appeared to be some interest in consolidating the city Community Development and Public Works departments in a single location.

Currently, Community Development, which includes the planning and zoning and building divisions, operates out of city hall, while Public Works is located on Virginia Street.

Because of the regular interaction between the two departments, Lamar asked whether it would make sense to have them in the same building.

One possibility for that would involve moving the two departments to the Prescott Gateway Mall on Highway 69. Noting that the declining mall would benefit from the increased traffic, Lamar said the city is in “very, very, very preliminary discussions” with mall owners about that possibility.

Other ideas for a Community Development/Public Works location included the old DES (Department of Economic Security) building on West Gurley Street, as well as the old APS (Arizona Public Service) building on Marina Street.

GETTING OUT OF THE LANDLORD ROLE?

Commissioners also recommended that city officials broach with the city’s various tenants the possibility of long-term purchases of city-owned properties.

For instance, Commissioner Bill McCleary pushed for a redevelopment of the Prescott Rodeo Grounds. “We have the biggest piece of property in town,” he said of the 38-acre city-owned parcel.

McCleary maintained that redevelopment or sale of the Rodeo Grounds could be a means of funding a new city hall facility. He suggested that the city either put out a request for proposals (RFP) on the property, or work with the local rodeo group (Prescott Frontier Days) on a plan for buying the property through a long-term arrangement.

Other commissioners also brought up the city’s lease arrangements with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Arizona and the Adult Center of Prescott, both of which operate on city-owned property.

‘NO APPETITE FOR DEBT’

Another issue on which the commission appeared to agree was that the community likely would not support borrowing money through a bond to pay for a new city hall campus.

“I don’t see the appetite for spending a tremendous amount of money,” Lamar said.

Mengarelli agreed. “We still have $69 million in PSPRS (Public Safety Personnel Retirement System) debt,” he said. “It’s just not in the cards to spend a bunch of money (on a city hall).”

Still, Fann pointed out that the current 1960s-era city hall will need considerable improvements in the coming years.

“We’re going to spend money to patch a building, and you’re not going to touch efficiency,” he said. “You still have the city attorney across the parking lot, the Finance Department in another old building, and Public Works two miles away.”

The commission is expected to meet one more time on Feb. 27, and then appear before the Prescott City Council in March with its findings.

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