Will El Mirage Ever Be Able to Emerge From the Shadow of Luke Air Force Base?
Thomas Schultz

Will El Mirage Ever Be Able to Emerge From the Shadow of Luke Air Force Base?

The Mexican migrant workers who settled on the west bank of the Agua Fria River more than 70 years ago didn't have an easy life, but it was a good one.

They toiled in the fields, sowing seeds, pulling weeds, and picking watermelons, onions, and cotton. They carved out canals to water the farmlands. And they raised their families in simple ranch houses.

In 1937, they founded El Mirage, then a 134-acre town about 20 miles northwest of Phoenix. It was a community built on the dreams of farm workers who, after spending their lives harvesting crops across the country, wanted to plant some roots of their own.


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The West Valley also proved attractive to the U.S. Army. In 1940, it sent a scout to Arizona to find a spot where the Army Air Corps could provide advanced training to fighter pilots. They set their sights on 1,440 acres of land several miles west of El Mirage, and the following year opened Litchfield Park Air Base, later renamed Luke Air Force Base.

Lifelong residents of El Mirage remember living comfortably for decades with the nearby military base. The community became a city in 1951 and still managed to avoid rifts with military officials. After a while, the sounds of jet engines screeching overhead simply faded into the background.

Jets ripping through the sky epitomized freedom and protection. And for most of Arizona, they also represented an economic boon.

But never for El Mirage.

When the jets fly overhead, their powerful engines are sometimes low and loud enough to rattle windows and walls. The roar can easily silence a conversation.

A 2008 study commissioned by state officials estimated that the military industry generates $9 billion annually in economic output in Arizona, in part, through job creation and military contracts with local businesses.

But for El Mirage, where the population numbers about 33,000, the military presence has been nothing but an impediment to economic prosperity. El Mirage has faced constant opposition from military officials and stymied growth because of its proximity to Luke Air Force Base.

State-imposed development restrictions meant to protect Luke from encroachment also kept many developers at bay. That put a significant hurt on El Mirage because a whopping 60 percent of the community sits beneath those restricted high-noise and accident-potential zones.

True, it didn't keep away a Walmart Super Center, which opened in El Mirage in 2005. That retail giant has proved to be one of the city's major successes, bringing about 500 jobs to the community and as much as $5 million annually in sales tax revenues.

But a single store — even a Walmart — isn't enough to support an entire city.

Over the years, nearby cities like Glendale and Sun City have elbowed military officials into concessions to ease noise and development restrictions. Not El Mirage. And so the planes fly over — and over and over.

The city has a legacy of well-meaning leaders who have tried to make El Mirage a great community. Historically, elected officials in El Mirage may not have been politically polished in their attempts to get that message across, but they stood up for what they believed was in the residents' best interests.

They fought for prosperity and highlighted the opportunities El Mirage missed out on because of Luke Air Force Base, including a $20 million resort-style hotel and convention center that military officials opposed in 1983.

Luke brass apparently didn't have anything to say about this to New Times.

A call to Luke's public affairs bureau was directed to Rusty Mitchell, director of Luke's "Community Initiatives Team." But New Times never heard back from him.

That's odd. Luke wasn't always afraid to come to the phone. And Luke used to come out swinging against cities and projects that threatened the base.

But lately, they've let others wear the gloves. There's Fighter Country Partnership, an advocacy group of community leaders that support Luke. There is Luke Forward, a campaign launched to promote Arizona's support of Luke and its continued training mission.

And there is Lana Mook, who couldn't be a bigger supporter of the base if she was on its payroll.

A retiree who moved to El Mirage a few years ago, Mook couldn't stand what she considered to be all the Luke bashing in her adopted hometown. She and her neighbors at Pueblo Mirage, a retirement community, started a group to counter it.

Mook is a 63-year-old grandmother of four, a community volunteer, and a workaholic — even in her retirement years — who once held management jobs in the healthcare industry.

Her goal has been to stir support in El Mirage for Luke Air Force Base while debunking city officials' claims that the base is to blame for the city's inadequate economic development.

The group she helped found also hosted community meetings with noise experts to silence the city's claims that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new jet expected to eventually replace the existing warbirds at Luke, would be too loud and disrupt life in the community.

Mook adopted a protect-Luke-at-all-costs stance and stood with leaders from other communities, blasting and ridiculing El Mirage for not pledging its unwavering support to the military base.

And last month, she was elected mayor of El Mirage.

Lana Mook once told her predecessor, Michele Kern, that El Mirage should not be placed before the interests of the state — specifically, the $9 billion that military operations funnel into Arizona's economy.

The former mayor fired back: "That's exactly what I'm supposed to do. I'm elected to represent the people of El Mirage."

Mook sees her role differently. As one of her first acts as mayor, she's invited Luke's base commander, Brigadier General Jerry D. Harris Jr., to the February 24 El Mirage City Council meeting, where she plans to present him with an official proclamation of the city's support.

Her other big new idea: She is talking about restoring a popular annual festival that the city canceled years ago.

Proclamations and festivals are nice, but they don't pay the bills.

Lana Mook is not a bad person. She goes to the El Mirage Senior Center and volunteers to take blood pressure readings. She and her friends host food drives to feed hungry families in the city.

But she is a mayor who has yet to develop a concrete economic plan for her community. She may only be two months into her term, but time is of the essence in El Mirage.

The city has a rich history playing David to the military's Goliath. Fight as it may, El Mirage has never been able to crawl out from beneath Luke's shadow. Infighting and political corruption haven't done much to help the city's image — or efforts. But at least El Mirage has always had a common enemy in Luke.

Consider the F-35, a jet that is as much as four times louder than the current fighter jet at Luke Air Force Base. Military studies conducted at a Florida Air Force base noted that jet noise there could have a detrimental impact on children in school and at daycare facilities. The Air Force has decided to place the F-35 at Luke, where some officials fear it will create excessive noise over the community and affect property values.

Other Valley mayors, like Glendale's Elaine Scruggs, have championed the F-35. But the F-35 wouldn't hamper development in Scruggs' city; Glendale made sure of that years ago.

In other parts of the country, cities directly impacted have fought back — hard.

When the Air Force decided to place the F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the mayor of Valparaiso, the small city that sits at edge of the base, jumped into action with lawsuits against the Air Force in U.S. District Court.

Valparaiso Mayor Bruce Arnold had no choice but to sue, he told the local media, because "excessive noise from the F-35 could destroy city property values, if not the foundations of homes themselves."

Those lawsuits, settled in March, mean that military officials have scaled back the number of F-35 flights over the city. And the action gave some hope to El Mirage residents concerned about the unknown impact that the F-35 would have on their community.

Mook won't be suing Luke anytime soon. She won't fight the base to ensure better chances at economic prosperity for her city — and yet she also doesn't have a concrete plan to improve El Mirage's lot.

Instead, Mook is talking a lot about a dusty old plan to rehab some houses on Thunderbird Road. And she's big on a foreign-trade zone that the federal government approved for the West Valley in January.

In a foreign-trade zone, business can bring products into the zone duty-free so they can assemble, store, or even repackage the goods for sale. Companies that pay an annual fee to operate in the specially designated zone can save, experts estimate, as much as $1 million a year.

There are vacant lots in El Mirage where city officials could put manufacturing plants. But, the real question is whether developers will see enough of an incentive.

Why open shop beneath Air Force flight paths that carry with them a potential for high noise and jet crashes, when a company can do the same in other West Valley cities without similar challenges?

That's a good question, and one that time will answer. Meanwhile, Mook is clearly not sold on the one new idea anyone's had in years that might actually spur even a bit of development — or at least some energy — into the heart of El Mirage.

The plan is to create an arts district in El Mirage. This, organizers say, would entice artists to move into the abundance of vacant homes and even turn those homes into businesses. It's already spurred an arts festival called Third Thursdays and given life to one city-sponsored downtown art gallery.

Under Mook's regime, the arts district's days may be numbered.

To be fair, an arts district isn't the cure-all for El Mirage, any more than the West Valley's foreign-trade zone would be. But at least it would benefit El Mirage in even a small way.

Will Lana Mook find a balance between representing the community and fulfilling her pledge to protect the military base? What will she do if the F-35 generates too much noise for residents to comfortably enjoy spending time in their yards or at city parks? Or if the noise makes it difficult for schoolchildren to concentrate?

She was clearly being careful last month when she talked to New Times about Luke Air Force Base in her new City Hall office.

She says those issues will be sorted out when military officials complete their studies on how the F-35s will affect surrounding communities.

What is more important, she says, is to focus on El Mirage's being a team player, promoting and encouraging "West Valley growth, even if it's not in El Mirage."

She's unclear as to how this will actually help the people of El Mirage.

Thomas Schultz, a Valley photographer whom others envisioned as the linchpin in the city's now-threatened arts community, is intrigued by the small city and has documented it in photographs that he will later publish in a book. He's driven up and down the streets of old town El Mirage, capturing images of the new homes that stand in contrast to old adobe homes and of men in cowboy hats polishing their boots.

"This is a critical time for El Mirage," Schultz told New Times. "But there is uncertainty here. Why would anyone move to El Mirage?"

Most people know El Mirage only from the road. The community sits along a 1½-mile stretch of Grand Avenue, a popular route to Las Vegas. The aging buildings, shuttered businesses, and vacant lots along the road do not capture the city's best side.

Those who venture into the community find El Mirage City Hall squeezed into what was once a strip mall, a police department invisible behind a shaded fence, and a single firehouse.

The streets of downtown El Mirage are mostly quiet during the day, dotted by an unpredictable mix of homes, some falling apart and others sporting modern renovations and carefully maintained yards. There are homes painted bright yellow or red, dressed in color schemes reminiscent of those in Mexican towns.

Men entrenched in tradition sit in their front yards and shave with straight razors or polish their work boots. The few pedestrians walk to nearby convenience stores for a loaf of bread or some Bud Light. A woman pushes a white cart down the street, incessantly ringing a tiny bell, hawking flavorful Mexican paletas, or popsicles.

It's a sleepy downtown that gets even quieter to the south, where cookie-cutter homes in nondescript neighborhoods abound. Most homes are squeezed onto narrow lots, their garage doors closed and window shades drawn tightly.

Lifelong residents of El Mirage such as Mary Izaguirre will tell you that she loves her city because it still has a rural atmosphere. She blames politicians for smearing the community's reputation and creating instability for decades.

She says it is all too common for newly elected officials to undo what the previous council did. Mook and four new council members have proved no different.

Without explanation, they immediately fired City Attorney Rick Flaaen, who was doubling as city manager. They also booted several city administrators, including economic development director Scott Chesney, and lost Police Chief Michael Frasier.

Frasier, a former assistant police chief in Phoenix who has been hailed for restoring order and integrity to the El Mirage Police Department, took a job as the top cop in the neighboring city of Surprise. Many speculate that his days in El Mirage also were numbered.

Such turmoil is not uncommon in the little city, and that makes it easy to forget that El Mirage was built on dreams.

Not only the dreams of migrant farm workers who wanted stability and better lives for their families, but those of fighter pilots who wanted to soar through the skies in defense of their country.

The predominately Latino community maintained its small-town atmosphere through the 1990s, with a population of about 5,000. Vacant and inexpensive swaths of land brought flocks of housing developers to El Mirage, and by 2006, there were more than 32,000 people living in the 11-square-mile community.

Sitting on the bleachers at Gentry Park, Izaguirre recalls the days when she and her neighbors could leave the windows open at night. She remembers when the city was a place where everyone knew everyone.

She says she knows things weren't going to stay the same forever.

"You have to grow, and we do have a lot of housing where we used to have orchards and cotton fields. If you can call that progress, then I guess it's progress."

"And, we do have street lights and traffic lights and sidewalks, but sadly, that's about it."

Her son, Enrique, chimes in, reminding her sarcastically that residents also have Gateway Park, a 40-acre open space that was created "in the middle of nowhere" about a year ago.

That park, one of very few in El Mirage, was supposed to be closer to downtown. But to make room for a gas station, city officials pushed the park a mile farther south. So there are no sidewalks leading up the park, which has a popular skate court. To get there, skaters must coast on their boards alongside cars on the busy roadway.

The friendly, small-town feel didn't always gibe with the community's politics, which were characterized by backbiting and vindictive recalls, and in which officials wielded political power for their own advantage.

In 2000, voters recalled five of the seven City Council members.

Izaguirre says there has been a lot of frustration and that civic-minded residents have receded into the background.

"Everything was just rubber-stamped. People felt there was no sense in going to a meeting if they were not going to listen to you," she says. "You give up. I mean, why keep yelling at a wall?"

El Mirage has had three mayors in three years.

Before Mook, there was Mayor Michele Kern. Before Kern, there was Mayor Fred Waterman. Waterman resigned amid El Mirage's fight against the rest of the Valley over the city's contention that the F-35 would cause unbearable noise pollution for residents and further affect their ability to attract businesses to the community. Kern stepped up and filled his seat but didn't seek re-election.

During that same time, there also have been three city managers: B.J. Cornwall, who resigned after a falling out with the previous city council; Flaaen, who wore the manager's hat only briefly before being fired by the new council; and now Spencer Isom, the city's former assistant manager.

The constant upheaval among elected officials created an unwelcoming atmosphere for developers. Projects and contractors approved by one council were easily overturned by the next.

Unfortunately for El Mirage, Luke Air Force officials were willing to make accommodations for Sun City, a nearby retirement community whose residents frequently complained about the jet noise in the late '60s and early '70s. Despite concerns about airspace, Luke officials also managed to work with Glendale's new airport just a few miles from the base.

Flight paths were altered time and again until most were directly over El Mirage. Frustrated city leaders watched as businesses moved into neighboring communities while theirs remained mostly stagnant.

Who knows what El Mirage could have been?

Its sister city, Surprise, teems with a healthy stock of the big-box stores that typically help cities pay the bills.

Along Bell Road, west of Grand Avenue, businesses have flourished in Surprise: Red Lobster, Applebee's, Olive Garden, Home Depot, Walmart and Lowe's — all the usual suspects are there, flanked by smaller retail shops, video stores, book stores, and coffee shops.

El Mirage has long yearned for a piece of the action, wishing to break free of its bedroom-community image and develop big-city amenities. Air Force officials were concerned that the type of development El Mirage was chasing would lead to encroachment.

No plans were grander and seemingly within reach than those pitched by former city managers Gil Olguin and Dick McComb.

Under their administration during the 1980s and early 1990s, El Mirage was ready to welcome a luxury resort and convention center, a medical center and auto mall, and a spring training baseball stadium.

It was 1983 and plans for Sierra Grande Resort, Hotel and Convention Center had been in the works for two years. The 229-acre development would lie along the west bank of the Agua Fria River, five miles from the end of Luke Air Force Base's south runway.

A Phoenix architecture firm had already started preparing plans for the $20 million 250-room hotel, as well as the convention center and a neighboring 18-hole golf course and clubhouse.

El Mirage was on the verge of getting a $5 million grant from Housing and Urban Development agency that it could use as a low-interest loan for developers. It was the key to get the project rolling.

At that time, Olguin told the Daily News-Sun that the resort would create more than 600 jobs and a new tax base.

Luke officials, concerned that a resort in El Mirage would attract more development to the community, decided to weigh in with opposition.

"Things had been going so well," Grant Willis, the town's former planning and zoning director, told an Arizona Republic reporter in December 1983. "If this [resort] goes down the tube, I think it's all [the $70 million in developments] going to go down. I really feel sorry for this community."

In 1984, Olguin went to Washington, D.C., to convince military officials that the city's resort was key to the future economic development of the community — and that it would not interfere with Luke's mission or jeopardize the safety of fighter pilots in training.

Olguin met with HUD officials in Washington and even reached out to the White House for help.

The odds were stacked against the tiny Arizona city pitted against the U.S. Air Force, which was putting pressure on the feds not to award the seed money El Mirage needed for the resort.

Elation filled the city when HUD officials announced that El Mirage would, indeed, be awarded a nearly $5 million grant — the cornerstone to $70 million worth of development.

At that time, it was the largest grant ever awarded by the federal agency to an Arizona town. And it was in El Mirage's hands.

"I've always said from the beginning, you've got to look at El Mirage and what it can be. You have to have guts and vision," Olguin told the Phoenix Gazette.

After the grant was approved — just as Luke officials feared and El Mirage officials hoped — developers brought other projects to the table. The city proposed a $34.5 million recreational-vehicle resort with some 3,000 spaces.

Luke Air Force Base again voiced its objections to a flood of homes beneath its flight paths. After the feds awarded the grant, Luke officials combed through the city's grant applications for discrepancies. For instance, unemployment figures on one application didn't match another. And the city may not have followed guidelines of a national environmental policy act.

Housing officials ultimately forced El Mirage to redo its application and commission a $120,000 environmental study to figure out whether the Agua Fria River would be affected by the project.

El Mirage had obtained a letter from the Arizona Game and Fish Department saying that there were no wetlands or endangered species in the area of the proposed development.

As part of Luke's protest, Air Force officials also got a letter from Game and Fish saying that its earlier findings weren't based on "adequate information."

Luke officials' objections were taking root.

When the feds tied up the grant money for the RV park, El Mirage and developers decided to fund it fully with private money.

And, as Olguin had said many, many times before: "We are going at it alone . . ."

Olguin told local newspapers that the push for economic development was also a push to offer a better future for the community's children.

"We were really worried that we wouldn't have jobs for them after they graduated. Now, we're going to be able to go on with the redevelopment, the revitalization, and the rehabilitation of a community that has been sitting there, neglected, for over 33 years."

That was in the mid-'80s.

Time has passed, and El Mirage is ahead only a Walmart, a couple of gas stations and convenience stores, and a regional park with no sidewalks leading up to it.

Local military officials fought just as hard as El Mirage to preserve their mission. Cities such as Glendale, Goodyear, and others joined Luke in its efforts to block El Mirage's plans.

Public opinion was against El Mirage during the 1980s, and it largely continues today.

After the feds had awarded the city a $5 million grant, the editorial board of the Phoenix Gazette wrote: "HUD officials, should they take the trouble to visit El Mirage, would find a depressed agricultural community with absolutely no potential of becoming another Scottsdale."

When El Mirage announced plans that it was switching from septic tanks to a sewer system, base officials expressed concerned that modern sewer lines would attract more development. City officials said it was a matter of public health.

Ironically, at the same time that Luke and Glendale officials were opposing projects in El Mirage, Glendale was preparing to build a municipal airport less than four miles from Luke Air Force Base.

An April 1984 letter written by then-Arizona state Senator Hal Runyan to Olguin noted that there were concerns about the new Glendale Airport, which Glendale said it needed because it had outgrown its old one.

At that time, El Mirage leaders believed that Luke was so vehemently opposed to El Mirage's economic development plans because the military wanted to accommodate Glendale's proposed airport.

Glendale officials defended their plans and told the Gazette that Luke had already changed its flight patterns five years earlier. Not because of its airport plans — but because of complaints about jet noise from retirees in Sun City and Sun City West.

"We've changed our flight patterns seven times since 1969 to try to overcome objection to noise levels over Sun City," a Luke Air Force Base spokesman told the Daily News-Sun in 1983. "But now there is no room left to make any alterations without compromising flight safety . . . This continued encroachment into our airspace severely restricts our operations at Luke and compromises our safety standards."

Glendale moved ahead with its airport, even though then-Luke Air Force Base Commander Colonel Arley McRae thought that it was "unwise." That's how he described Glendale's plans to a community group.

"Once the airport is established, our flexibility is gone forever," he told the group in June 1984.

In 1984, an airspace manager for Luke Air Force Base also talked about how "it's the crowded airspace that represents the real threat to public safety."

The municipal airport opened in Glendale, and projects in El Mirage were falling apart.

In October 1985, they unveiled plans for Village Square, a 389-acre development in El Mirage with a medical care center and teaching campus, as many as 15 auto dealers, apartment complexes, and a new City Hall.

Billed as a whole new city, the project had city leaders smiling once again.

"Five years from now, we will no longer be a pocket of poverty," Olguin told the Arizona Republic in November 1985. "There will be jobs coming out of our ears. We have plans for almost $600 million of development in El Mirage."

Delays in construction and growing building restrictions shut down that project. The only project that came to fruition was the RV park and its championship golf course — Pueblo Mirage, now home to the city's newest mayor.

El Mirage brought a different city manager on board, and the disputes with Luke continued. City officials approved filing a $1 billion lawsuit against the base in 1988 for alleged economic losses brought on by their military neighbor — lost property values and developers pulling out of projects because of Air Force opposition.

The city had no money and never filed the lawsuit.

Luke officials denied that El Mirage's lack of political clout and impoverished populace were the reasons that flight paths were aimed directly over the community.

"The reason we don't fly over Sun City is because [more] people live there and we fly over El Mirage because fewer people live there. Air Force policy is not to disturb the people with whom you live to the greatest extent possible," a Luke official told the Gazette in January 1988.

There was still more disappointment to come.

In 1991, El Mirage was working with a developer for a 270-acre landfill that was supposed to generate revenue for El Mirage. But the state denied a permit for it, citing a long-term risk of groundwater contamination.

Years later, when developers started building thousands of homes in El Mirage, many of them were constructed in floodplains. City leaders asked Maricopa County for help with a flood-control project, but county officials turned them away.

City officials believed it was another attempt to hamper development in El Mirage. Undeterred, city officials continued approving housing permits.

Lana Mook wants to leave the history of troubled dealings in the past and work on a gentler approach with Luke Air Force officials.

"I have to re-engage with our community," she says. And by that, she does not necessarily mean El Mirage.

Many residents tuned out city officials after dealing with former City Manager B.J. Cornwall. He was hired in 2003 — the ninth person to serve as city manager in 12 years. He wasn't a manager who reached out to the community. Instead, he disbanded community advisory groups and eliminated City Council workshop meetings.

He almost immediately got into a battle with Glendale leaders over Luke Air Force Base and the expanse of land surrounding the base. Under his direction, the city filed a lawsuit against Glendale in 2004 to gain access to land that the city locked up with a 1978 strip annexation.

El Mirage spent about $400,000 on those lawsuits, but was shot down twice by Arizona courts.

After their legal efforts failed, El Mirage officials went to Washington to ask for help. They wanted $400 million in reparations from the feds, for the economic hits Luke delivered to the community. Their request went nowhere and neighboring cities again pummeled El Mirage.

At least they tried.

Lana Mook, by comparison, is searching for an economic infusion by revitalizing Thunderbird Road with restaurants and small businesses that double as homes, all dressed in pueblo-style façades that would honor the community's heritage. She wants residents to live and work in those storefronts along the city's main thoroughfare.

It's unclear how many people or businesses the plan involve. The proposals are vague, and hardly new.

Criz Urquidez grew up in El Mirage but moved away after her father died about seven years ago. She has heard those plans about revamping Thunderbird Road before.

"That's been the plan for years and years and years," she says, chuckling at the idea that it's being proposed — again. "Come on. I'm 71 years old and I think I was 30 when I first heard it. It's just ridiculous."

There is one new idea that's been floating around town: Revitalize El Mirage by creating an arts district.

This effort began before the most recent election. Now Thomas Schultz, who has spent the past year photographing the community and establishing an art gallery in downtown El Mirage, is living with the same uncertainty that El Mirage residents have endured for many years.

Schultz was invited to El Mirage in 2009 by the city's previous administration. He was already working on his El Mirage photography project with a grant from the Arizona Commision on the Arts. They helped him opened a gallery in a vacant building, with the hope of creating an arts district similar to one in Paducah, Kentucky, another small community that has struggled.

Last month, Schultz sat inside the El Mirage Gallery and Studio, discussing his uncertain future. Lining the walls behind him are photographs of abandoned cars and worn farmhouses illuminated by the haunting glow of Arizona's moonlight.

Schultz took the photographs at junkyards across the Valley. In the center of the open gallery stands a giant metal sign he rescued years ago from a shuttered business.

The artist sees potential in items that most people would cast away. It was the promise of creating something amazing in El Mirage — a community most have already dismissed as irrelevant — that convinced him he should rearrange his life and help with the city's fledgling artist-in-residence program.

City officials had promised him they would help him find a house in the arts district they were establishing. He would help them entice local artists to move into homes abandoned during the massive wave of foreclosures that hit El Mirage hard.

But the one-year contract he signed with El Mirage to use the city building has expired. He has artists scheduled several months out to show their work at the gallery.

There's been no official word from City Hall. Schultz's future in El Mirage isn't promising, given that he was championed by the previous slate of elected officials. And economic development director Scott Chesney, who led the charge on incorporating art and artists into downtown El Mirage, is now out of a job himself.

Schultz isn't sure what will become of the city's monthly art fair, Third Thursdays.

On the third Thursday in February, he rushed around to make sure everything was running smoothly. A crowd of about 50 people sat mesmerized by dancers twirling balls of fire around their bodies. Electronic music pumped into the air.

Schultz says that what El Mirage has started is grabbing the interest of neighboring cities, including Avondale and Surprise.

"We need to keep this thing going," he says. "This is just a pre-scene, but the real value is when we get artists moving to those vacant homes and revitalize the neighborhood."

El Mirage doesn't have to choose a single path, he says. City officials could pursue both traditional paths to economic growth and the arts. Both a military base and appropriate development.

"It was good energy," Schultz says of the most recent Third Thursday celebration. "But this whole process, with the change in politics and city officials and on the council, you just never feel comfortable.

"You're trying to impress someone and you're not even sure who you're trying to impress."

Lana Mook, for one, is definitely not impressed.

"We're not going to be an arts community," Mook says. "We may incorporate that into a piece of our revitalization, but it's not the main focus. We're not a Scottsdale. We're not a Sedona. We're not a Jerome. The time for dreaming is done. We need to act."


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