Small cities struggle with historic preservation efforts

[Source: John Yantis, AZ Republic] – The wrecking ball often swings faster in smaller cities trying to save history, preservationists and local leaders say. Money, know-how, constantly changing priorities and new residents with shallow roots in the community often hinder efforts to protect historic architecture and cultural sites. The dilemma leaves longtime residents disappointed and frustrates efforts to save local landmarks.

In June, former students failed to save an auditorium-turned gymnasium in Litchfield Park. Constructed in 1928, the gym was a reminder of the city’s early days. A month later, Buckeye officials voted to demolish a cotton gin that was also built in 1928. After the decision, a town councilman wondered aloud why Buckeye bothers to advertise its historic past. “The gin is just a rusty building,” said Councilman Robert Garza, a fifth-generation native of Buckeye. “But it is part of our heritage.”

Preservation can present challenges in larger cities, too. In Mesa, organized efforts to save historic sites began in the mid-1990s, but advocates said they only came after the city lost numerous noteworthy buildings, including a social hall, park and school.

Impediments to saving history in smaller cities are usually more acute. They often start too late. “It can happen at all different levels, but I think small communities haven’t spent a lot (of) time inventorying,” said James Garrison, state historic-preservation officer.

“They’re interested in growth and new things and attracting businesses and doing all these things and often don’t take a look around at what might fit a new use or be available for adaptive reuse.” Adaptive reuse is a process that allows older buildings to be used for new purposes while retaining their historic features.

Many large cities have preservation officers and commissions that allow experts to plan and look for properties that could become endangered, Garrison said. Smaller towns’ historic sites often go vacant, which escalates the cost to fix them up. Buildings left empty deteriorate quickly and are often vandalized. Also, often there is little practical discussion about what they will be used for. Every property can’t become a museum, but these sites still need an active life in the community, Garrison said.

Financial challenges – Preservation efforts in Arizona were recently complicated after a state-funding source dried up. In 2010, the governor and state Legislature stripped a portion of Arizona’s Heritage Fund that provided $1.5 million in grants for cities to find, preserve, stabilize and rehabilitate buildings and other historic sites. The fund was made up of lottery proceeds approved by voters in 1990.

The Arizona Heritage Alliance and others are working to restore the fund, which is administered by the Arizona State Parks Board. The Arizona Preservation Foundation, a group of volunteer preservation advocates, did not gather enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. They plan to get the issue on the ballot in 2014.

As public money for preservation becomes more scarce, some cities have unsuccessfully tried to find private financing. In Goodyear, a years-long effort to restore the Litchfield Train Station is taking a new direction after backers had difficulty raising enough money through raffles and car and train shows. Members of the city’s Centennial Commission decided in May to form a non-profit foundation, said Wally Campbell, a city councilwoman who serves on the board. Supporters hope the foundation will qualify for grants. Someday, foundation officials hope it will be part of a train park for children. “We’re excited about it, but we’re moving forward slowly,” Campbell said. The 1,900-square-foot station was built in the 1920s by the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 2009, the city moved the depot 3 miles from its original location, to an area near the intersection of Cotton Lane and Maricopa 85.

Ever-changing plans – In Buckeye, evolving city plans have frustrated historic-preservation efforts. For years, informal town plans called for turning the Eastman Gin into a museum and downtown gateway to showcase the area’s agricultural heritage. Town officials spent more than $2 million to buy the gin and surrounding property. In the end, renovating the landmark, which was once used to separate cotton from its seeds, was too costly. Demolition is expected to begin in early September. For Garza, it was the latest example of shifting priorities. “It’s hard because Buckeye went through a giant boom, and we had a big influx of people from outside,” he said. “They didn’t necessarily see what we saw in our community, in our history, in our culture.”

Successful saves – Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, says there is greater awareness about the importance of historic preservation in smaller cities. Officials and the public are more focused on sustainability and adapting buildings to be reused, he said. Old Main, a 90-year-old vacant building on Peoria High’s campus, will be saved. About $1.6 million will be spent to save the building.

Phoenix has used bond money to renovate many historic structures, McPherson said.

And earlier this month, Litchfield Park struck a deal with the school district that will ensure the protection of a mission-style church built in the early 1920s. Unfortunately, some historic sites in small towns can’t be saved, McPherson said. “We hurt every time that happens because that’s one more strike against our heritage in a state that’s relatively new,” McPherson said.

Arizona legislators want to water down voter intiatives

[Source: Kellie Mejdrich,  Arizona-Sonora News Service] – State legislators want voters to scuttle the power of their own initiatives. Legislators crafted a number of constitutional amendments that subjects voter initiatives to periodic re-authorization, audits their effectiveness, subjects them to legislative appropriation and repeals certain initiatives altogether. GOP legislators say voter initiatives limit their ability to appropriate funds from a tight budget and call the process an outright threat to a “republican, smaller, form of government,” said Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail.

Critics call the push to water down voter initiatives a legislative intrusion into the peoples’ lawmaking process. GOP legislators tout the reforms as essential to maintaining Arizona as a state governed by a legislature, not direct democracy. Now, citizens can put laws to a vote by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the electorate—around 100,000 signatures—and change the state constitution by collecting 15 percent—around 150,000 signatures. If approved at election, the initiative becomes law and cannot be repealed or vetoed by the Legislature or the governor. That initiative remains law unless voters gather the necessary signatures to repeal the measure.

Republicans argue that reauthorization helps voters, but critics say it’s an attempt to alter fundamentally Arizona’s identity as a state. “This state would be so different if this legislature overturned the will of the people who passed these initiatives,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, during a committee hearing for a bill sponsored by Antenori, which requires reauthorization of any initiative passed after 1998 that ” creates a fund for public monies, dedicates public monies to a specific purpose or otherwise affects (general fund) revenues or expenditures,” the bill language states.

Antenori’s SCR 1031 requires reauthorization of such initiatives after eight years. A similar bill, HCR 2005, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber. Crandell and Antenori will combine their bills as they approach final passage, Antenori said. The measure would push re-votes on a number of initiatives including Clean Elections, the Independent Redistricting Commission, various tobacco taxes and litigation funds used for education.

Why not let citizens who want to change an initiative propose a revote on it? It’s not that simple, legislators said. “A lot of folks aren’t able to get that done. They don’t have the resources to do it,” Antenori said. “The threshold for doing that is significantly higher, and more difficult and costly.”

Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm that defends ballot initiative cases in the state, rejected that argument, adding “the legislature just doesn’t like the initiatives.” “They can come up with those kind of silly arguments. Well, it doesn’t stop people from doing initiatives. We have a ton of them all the time,” Hogan said. “If the people thought those laws were so terrible, I’m sure that somebody would do an initiative to get rid of them.”

Legislators also argue that the electorate has changed — voters die or move and new voters often do not know what initiatives are on the books. “People are uninformed,” Crandell said. “Once it becomes an initiative, and once it starts collecting the money, nobody ever goes back and looks at it again.” Hogan said that argument was glib.

Committee’s goal is to restore Heritage Fund

[Source: Tri Valley Central.com, Special to the Florence Reminder] – Arizona community leaders have announced the formation of a political committee, Restore the Voters’ Heritage Fund, to seek voter approval of a ballot referendum designed to support the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund in acquiring and preserving recreational and historical assets across the state. The measure, which would go before the voters in the Nov. 2012 election, is now being considered by the Arizona Legislature.

HCR2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones (R-Yuma) and cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 17 members of the House, would place a referendum on the November ballot seeking voter approval for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund.

“Pristine areas that represent the varied vistas, flora, and fauna found throughout Arizona, along with many important fragile sites, represent the heart and soul of our state,” Jones said. “It is particularly important now, as Arizona celebrates its Centennial, that we rededicate ourselves to the preservation of our historical roots and spectacular vistas.”

The Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund was initially established in 1990 following the passage of a citizen-approved ballot measure. As a result of the recent recession, however, the Legislature chose to redirect the dollars and remove that Fund from statute in order to close budget gaps.

HCR2047 has already passed its first hurdle, gaining the unanimous 9-0 vote of the House Agriculture and Water Committee.

“In celebration of Arizona’s centennial there is nothing we could do that is more significant than to restore the one major tool our state has for preserving our special places,” said Phoenix lawyer Grady Gammage Jr., chairman of the committee that will seek voter support for the referendum this fall.

Richard H. Dozer, chairman of GenSpring Family Office – Phoenix and former president of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is serving as treasurer of the committee. Looking back, he reflects, “The Heritage Fund has supported parks, trails, open space, jobs, and a better economy for Arizona in the past. We need it fully restored so that it continues that important work of preserving our rich history, beautiful landscapes, and our childrens’ strong minds and bodies. That is why I have agreed to support this campaign.”

One supporter of the restoration effort is Vicki Kilvinger, mayor of Florence. “From 1991 to 2006, Florence received a total of 18 grants totaling $1.5 million dollars, which was matched by the same amount for a total of over $3 million dollars,” said Kilvinger. “Our community and others across the state have been able to rehabilitate historic buildings utilizing the Fund. Passage of the referendum would reestablish a program that would create jobs in this difficult economy and also save historic properties, build parks, and contribute to a higher quality of life for our residents.”

According to Beth Woodin, president of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, a new coalition will support and lead the referendum campaign. “Already thousands of activists who have supported the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund in years past are ready to hit the ground running. It is expected that many other individuals and organizations will join this important cause for a better Arizona. It is time to restore the voters’ Heritage Fund.”

Parks Heritage Fund, clearly a boon to Arizona, should be restored

[Source: William C. Thornton, Special to the Arizona Daily Star, 2/16/2012] – The Arizona Parks Heritage Fund may be the best investment of state lottery dollars you’ve never heard of. Enacted by voters in 1990, the Heritage Fund directed $20 million to be divided equally each year between State Parks and Game and Fish. It’s also worth noting that the $10 million state parks heritage fund money often served as seed money for matching grants. Thus the total yearly impact was typically $20 million or more.

Parks grants have developed new parks, and built and improved trails, campgrounds, picnic facilities, boat docks and ramps. Historical restoration grants have helped preserve important parts of our rich cultural heritage including our own beloved Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert.

If you hunt, fish, hike, camp, boat, picnic or share my love of Arizona history, the Parks Heritage Fund has benefited you. Moreover, the Parks Heritage Fund has helped fuel the economic engine that brings dollars and supports jobs.

A 2007 study estimated that 224 jobs were directly supported by Parks Heritage Fund grants. Heritage-funded improvements to parks and historic sites help attract more than 2 million visitors, about half from out of state, who add $266 million to our state’s economy each year and support an additional 3,000 jobs, mostly in rural areas that have been among the most heavily impacted by the economic downturn.

In response to the economic downturn and decline in tax revenue, the Legislature swept the state parks allocation into the general fund in 2010 and, inexplicably, eliminated the fund in July 2011.

Now, thanks to Rep. Russ Jones, a Republican from Yuma, voters may be given the opportunity to restore this fund, which has benefitted every community in our state. If enacted by the Legislature and approved by voters, HCR 2047 will reinstate language and lottery funding for the state parks heritage fund into Arizona law. (Editor’s note: Reps. Steve Farley and Matt Heinz, both Tucson Democrats, are also sponsors, as is Rep. Ted Vogt, a Tucson Republican.)

It passed its first committee hearing unanimously with strong bipartisan support, but many hurdles remain before it can be referred to voters. Reinstatement of the parks funding is not a partisan issue. It isn’t a liberal-conservative issue. It’s common sense and sound business practice, a win-win for outdoor recreation, historical restoration and Arizona taxpayers.

It’s our Heritage. Let voters decide.

Contact your lawmakers. Tell your representatives in the Arizona Legislature your views. Go to www.azhouse.gov or to www.azsenate.gov online. Call the Tucson legislative office at 398-6000 or call Phoenix toll-free at 1-800-352-8404.

William C. Thornton is a member of the board of directors for the Arizona Heritage Alliance. Email him at cactusworld@msn.com