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Castle Cash

Small wonders never cease. The Phoenix City Council actually took some initiative on Tuesday, overruling a committee of citizens and asking voters to spend bond money to acquire land around the venerable Tovrea Castle. Part of that acreage, held by a Tovrea family trust, is in escrow for sale and development.

The citizens bond Historical and Cultural Subcommittee had rejected pleas for $13.5 million from castle buffs who wanted to use the dough to acquire 25 acres surrounding the historic building, renovate the facility and open it to the public. Instead, the subcommittee urged the council to grant $2.5 million for "exterior renovation" of the castle -- and nothing for land acquisition.

But the council voted unanimously to have the bond ballot specify that the $2.5 million go for land acquisition -- not renovation -- and directed that an additional $2 million in floating citywide preservation funds be shunted to buy the castle grounds. The city still has $800,000 left from a $5 million bond appropriation the voters approved in 1988. That brings the total available for land acquisition to $5.3 million.

That will probably be only about half the sum needed to buy all the land around the 71-year-old castle, advocates say, and won't leave any money for renovation.

Still, former Phoenix mayor John Driggs, a leading proponent of castle preservation, is pleased.

"I was hoping to get anything," Driggs says. "In all probability, we may end up doing the renovation with private funds."

Castle aficionados bombarded the council with pleas for real estate grants in the days leading up to the hearing. And the Millennial Arizona Republic followed New Times' lead on the issue, writing not one but two editorials urging land acquisition in the week preceding the hearing.

The city already owns the castle itself and about 18 acres surrounding it. Money for that came from the 1988 bond issue, which called for the city to acquire all the land. The Tovrea heirs have had the remaining 25 acres on the market for some time. But they'd prefer to sell it to the city and have the property saved.

City voters will act on the city's $753.9 million bond program on March 13.


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