Demolition of WPA Civic Building at Arizona State Fairgrounds on Temporary Hold

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Phoenix preservationists acted fast on Monday, July 14, when they noticed construction fencing pop up around the historic Civic Building on the Arizona State Fairgrounds at 19th Avenue and McDowell Road.

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The building, erected in 1938 as the headquarters of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the Great Depression era, is part of a demolition contract set to be executed within 30 days by the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on Tuesday, July 15, the Maricopa County Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order on the Civic Building's demolition. This legal interjection is lead by Preserve Phoenix, a community-based organization that comprises historic heavy-hitters including members of other preservation groups including the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, Arizona Preservation Foundation, Modern Phoenix, and Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition.

Of course, the keyword here is temporary. On Wednesday, July 23, a hearing will be held to determine the best way to proceed with historic structure. Details about the meeting can be found online through the Maricopa County Superior court.

As it stands, the Arizona Exposition and State Fair board lacks the funding to maintain the dilapidated building. Unlike several other historic buildings on the Fairgrounds, including the 1919 Mining Mineral Exhibition Building, the 1937 Grandstand, the 1940 Cattle Barns, the 1940 Home Economics Building, the 1949 Arizona Plaza, the 1960 Commercial Exhibition Building, and the 1965 Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Civic Building has remained abandoned for over six years and fails to generate revenue for the fairgrounds.

On Wednesday, July 16, the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission heard from representatives of the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board in a public forum regarding potential options for the Civic Building and other historic properties on the fairground site.

At this meeting, State Fair deputy director Wanella Costello voiced her frustration over the recent dispute between her board and Phoenix preservationists. "We try to do what we can with the money we've got," she said.

But without state funding, Costello said her board felt forced to make the most logical decision, claiming that if the building demolition is not complete by the State Fair, which starts Friday, October 10, she and her team will not be able to rent the vacated lot to potential vendors and sponsors, which could generate a potential earning of $80,000 to $100,000. "It's a challenge to have space sitting here that we're not able to use," said Costello.

Costello also noted that the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board had in recent years hired an engineer to provide an estimate of what it would costs to bring the building up to code, roughly $800,000 -- an amount well beyond what her board could afford. However,   Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission Historian Kathryn Leonard pointed out that this cost could be cut down due to the fact that such a modern building code need not be applied to a historic structure.

Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission member Mark Briggs noted that "there should have been a lot more communication on both sides of the fence."

Ultimately, the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission has proposed a historic preservation zoning overlay of the entire fairground property, this would protect the Civic Building as well as all other historic structures on the site.

For updates on the status of the proposed historic overlay and the demolition of the Civic Building, visit azpreservation.org.

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