Work on Hayden Flour Mill Event Space and Museum Kicks Off Later This Month

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NOTE: This post has been updated since its original publication. In the original version, Bill Tonnesen should have been described as a landscape architect. Tonnesen's involvement in the project is only limited to designing new landscaping for the property surrounding Hayden Flour Mill and changes to the exterior appearance of its building. We apologize for the error.

One of the oldest structures in Tempe is about to get a whole new look and purpose. 

The historic Hayden Flour Mill, which was constructed on the north end of Mill Avenue back in the 1870s, is mere weeks away from undergoing a massive makeover to the abandoned structures and the surrounding property. 

According to Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, the mill's new look, which was designed by Valley landscape architect Bill Tonnesen, will transform it into a primo events space and museum that's scheduled to open in the fall.  

Hallman says that city officials are currently reviewing Tonnesen's site plan and drawings, finalizing contractors, and planning for work to begin by the end of the month. 

It's been more than a decade since the mill (which was shut down after more than a century of operation) has been utilized. Hallman says the change is long overdue.

"It's become a bit of an eyesore and we really want to finally put it to good use," he says. As one of the oldest and most iconic structures in Tempe, the Hayden Mill has undergone a number of changes in its lengthy lifetime. Constructed in 1874 by legendary Arizonan Charles Trumbull Hayden, the mill ground wheat into flour for generations. It was rebuilt twice in the late 1800s after being destroyed by fire, and functioned as an operating mill until it was closed down in 1998.

Ritzy redevelopment projects utilizing the property were announced in 2001 and 2008, only to be sabotaged both times when the economy tanked. 

Besides giving a new lease on life to Hayden Mill, the changes will also eliminate a blighted and abandoned property along the city's main thoroughfare. Furthermore, Hallman says it will fix a "dead zone" and help better connect Tempe Beach Park with the rest of downtown.

"Third Street to Rio Salado Drive is like broken teeth in the smile that prevent the downtown and the lake area from fully linking together," he says. "The concept is to build a connection that's interesting and cool."

Hallman's been busy raising $605,000 in private contributions to the project, which will also be funded by $70,000 from the city's coffers. Its plans call for the rock-strewn swathes of dirt, rocks, and trash to become vibrant and greenery-filled landscaping utilizing a variety of pistachio trees and a variety of shrubbery.

The Tempe Urban Garden will also be relocated from Forest Avenue to the property, lighting elements will be installed, and a number of picnic tables and other seating will be constructed.

Portions of the project will be ultimately temporary in nature, Hallman explains, as the city hopes that the mill's buildings can eventually be redeveloped into a boutique hotel, retail space, or office buildings within the next five years. While new sidewalks and cement work will be permanent, trees and other greenery will be boxed and portable.

We're building stuff there that we'll ultimately be able to eventually move when the time comes so that all the investment we're making isn't lost," he says.

A portable stage will also be relocated to the site, with the Downtown Tempe Community organization booking a number of bands and performance acts.

A number of container buildings housing retail shops and eateries will also be placed on site between the towering silos that dominate the property and the smaller adjacent mill building.

Hallman says that the city is currently in talks with renowned restaurateur Chris Bianco to create a "bakery in a box" in one container, which would serve artisan breads made from the same kind of Durham wheat ground at the mill back in the day.

A proposed public art piece of a contemplative labyrinth in the shape of the Salt River Pima Indian Community's maze-like seal is also under consideration. Hallman says that the creation would tie into the Hayden Mill's history of helping nearby Native Americans with grinding their grains up until the 1960s.

Speaking of years past, the property's smaller mill building will become a museum of sorts. While the towering grain silos that dominate the property will be mostly untouched (save for a fresh coat of paint), the walls lower level of the adjacent structure will be sandblasted down to the original concrete and brick.

Meanwhile, the windows will be covered with rusted steel mesh, allowing visitors to view vintage milling machinery, an antique painted safe, and other historic gear used over the past 100 years. Durham wheat will be grown around the building and artful lighting and interactive panels detailing the history of the mill will also be included.

"The goal is to turn it into an operating museum," Hallman says. "Opening these windows to allow visitors to view inside the building and the historic equipment to show people what's been going on inside the mill for more than a century."

Across the street, the equally historic Monti's will also renovate its exterior and signage to include public art and landscaping designed by Tonneson, as well as adding an outdoor patio along Rio Salado Parkway. Owner Michael Monti is grateful that something's finally happening to the mill.

"The city's waited for over a decade for a $100 million dollar white knight to come along and transform everything with a wave of a wand. The only problem is that while they've waited, the thing has turned into a heap of rubble," Monti says. "If I had a nickel for everytime a customer has asked about the place, I could've reopened it myself."

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