Officials Turn to Businesses to Save State Fair Landmark

The Phoenix Historical Preservation Commission announced during Wednesday’s meeting they are seeking help from private businesses to save the 1938 Works Progress Administration building on the State Fair grounds.

The plan distributed federal funds to put Arizonans back to work after the Great Depression.

Kathryn Leonard, an archeologist serving as a historian to the commission, said the building is currently vacant.

“It’s in pretty poor condition and it is not able to be occupied. But it has been used in the last five years, mainly for storage,” Leonard stated.

During the meeting, committee members said they have met with state officials from the governor’s office to find a solution and save the building. The commission wants to show private businesses investing in the building is mutually beneficial to the business and the community. Companies will have the opportunity to increase profits due to the fair’s location and the state and city can preserve a part of Arizona’s history.

“When the private sector starts to see that there is a commitment on behalf of the state, they will be more likely to put some of their own funds into it,” Leonard remarked.

The Arizona State Preservation Foundation website says they have already raised $7,000 toward the restoration. The site states they need $42,000 to reach their goal.

Leonard hopes there will be a compromise and a public-private partnership will form. The finished building would house restaurants, offices for the private sector and some state offices.

Michelle Dodds, historic preservation officer for the city of Phoenix, says the commission has funds set aside as part of a warehouse-building grant program. They’re suggesting that if private funds are difficult to obtain, the committee could spare $40,000 from the fund to cover the restoration.

But there’s a catch.

In July 2014, the building came close to being demolished. The commission then initiated a historic preservation overlay that designated the Works Progress Administration building as a historic resource.

“They were ready to bulldoze the building when we started – the most immediate thing we did was initiate a designation, so we can say no,” Dodds stated.

Dodds said the state felt the commission didn’t have the jurisdiction to declare the building a historical site. The state currently owns the building and it’s in a lease back agreement with a bank. The commission has to work directly with the true owners of the property, in order for the historic designation to hold.

“This particular case with the Arizona state fair grounds it is unusual. We are not dealing with a private individual. We are dealing with a state agency and a state government that technically owns it. It is not your typical thing,” Dodds said.

Despite their differing views on authority over the building, the city and the state currently work together on this project.

“For the last year or so we put our differences aside and we worked cooperatively with one another trying to find a solution,” Dodds stated.

Bill Scheel, 59, chair of the Historical Preservation Commission, feels the vacant space holds great opportunities for business and government.

“We have seen how buildings like this can serve any number of roles. Office, retail, display, entertainment and what better place then the fairgrounds to be able to utilize those kinds of properties,” Scheel remarked.

He feels the fair should consider recycling the property rather than construct a new building.

“They really shouldn’t have to be building new facilities there. They’ve got fantastic historic buildings, let’s get those renovated, get those into service,” Scheel said.

The commission says the State Fair has not formally applied for bond or grant money. Our calls to the State Fair for comments on this restoration have not been returned.





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