This Old $811,000 House

That's how much taxpayers shelled out for a historic house that will anchor a "serenity park." That's a lot of money, considering the sellers had offered to move the house--at their cost--to another park.

The Manistee park application also garnered big points, despite that Sands Park sits about 700 yards away and there are more than 20 parks of one sort or another within two miles.

Manistee Park is planned as a "serenity park," featuring only paths and benches. Under Parks Department guidelines, this makes it different from Sands Park, which includes basketball and tennis courts along with its grass.

And while the two grant applications were considered in separate programs, "visiting historic sites" is designated as one of the Top 10 needs in the Parks Board's official Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan of Arizona.

All of this earned the Manistee park applicationa ranking of eighth out of 45 projects vying for grant money. And it was funded, much to the chagrin of several other communities whose projects were not.

Former Tucson city councilman Brent Davis, who has an interest in a project that was not funded, was livid over the Manistee grant.

"This is an inappropriate use of Heritage funds," he told the commission.
"The house is movable. There is clearly an alternative here. It can be moved and it can be moved at no expense to the taxpayer," he said.

"There are many, many projects on this list which have been in the planning stages for years in some of these communities that are being bumped ..."

Maryvale Village Planning Committee chairman Mike Morgan also questioned the Manistee grant.

"There's a disparity here," he said. "Maybe mine [application] is going to come up on the list and it's not going to be funded, but at least it deserves to be looked at in a better light under these circumstances."

Specifically, opponents of the project questioned the price tag.
Glendale put up $285,000 from its general fund, and the state matched that for a total of $570,000 for the park, bringing the grand total to $811,620 in public money.

Throw in the $140,000 donation from the Sandses and the price tag exceeds $950,000.

The Sands property was already in escrow with a commercial developer, pending zoning approval, when Glendale decided it wanted the property.

So Glendale and the state paid the Sandses the commercial price--about $162,000 an acre--for property that was never zoned commercial.

That's about $100,000 per acre more than the usual park purchase. But then again, the usual park purchase is not in the middle of a city.

Furthermore, the most valuable piece of the commercial site--three acres at the very corner of 51st Avenue and Northern--was not included in the sale. That still belongs to the Sands family, which must go back to the city for approval of a new plan that's likely to be a less intensive commercial use.

But the cost was never considered in either of the grants. Price is not a factor in the rating system for Heritage Fund grants.

However, Jim Ronstadt, chairman of the Arizona Outdoor Recreation Coordinating Committee, which recommends grants to the State Parks Board for approval, said it ought to be considered in the future.

"... as a director of parks operations in the city, I would be hard-pressed to request $162,000 for an acre of any kind of park for the community," Ronstadt said, adding that, because cost is not a factor in the current rating system, "I don't think there's anything we can do about it."

This little corner of Glendale was, officially, priceless.

As the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it."
The City of Glendale and the Glendale Historical Society are now the proud owners of a beautiful, 98-year-old home, with its surrounding park area, and no plan for what to do with it.

For a while, there was talk of using a bequest to the city to turn the park area into a tactile park for the visually impaired. That won't work because the grant was to preserve the palm trees and create a "serenity park."

Meanwhile, Glendale has made finishing the historic project at Sahuaro Ranch Park its priority. And there is no money to rehabilitate the Manistee Ranch house for use--a task with an estimated price tag of $300,000 to $500,000.

A cable-TV company has expressed interest in using the property for film projects, but there is no deal on the table yet.

"We're looking for that unusual situation where somebody could come in and live with it the way it is," says Scruggs. "I would like to see a foundation take this on."

And, of course, Glendale can apply again next year for grant money to continue the project.

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