Redeveloping Wheeler Park and other new city courthouse ideas in Flagstaff

(Source: ArizonaDailySun): Corina Vanek

Develop Wheeler Park for a courthouse?

Put more affordable housing downtown?

Move county supervisor meetings into new city courthouse?

 Those were just three of the ideas that came in this week on how to better leverage a $12 million Flagstaff city bond to build a new joint city and Coconino County courthouse.

In all, the request for ideas garnered 10 responses from organizations locally and from around the country.

The responses focused on options for financing the project as well as plans for the various parcels that were included in the request and gave examples of various public-private partnerships throughout the country and how the projects were financed.

In addition to a joint court facility on the site of the old county jail plus a parking garage, the city and county are looking to build a shared office building and redevelop the current municipal court complex when it is no longer needed.

In all, the city and county have committed $34 million to the courthouse expansion and other facilities.

The objectives of the request include creating a “state-of-the-art” facility for the courthouse, with $12 million approved by city voters in Proposition 412. The facility will be located at 211 N. Agassiz St., the site of the old county jail. The request also asks for the parking garage that was included in Prop. 412, an additional parking garage at the current Flagstaff Municipal Court site, a new commercial corridor downtown and adaptive reuse or a new facility for city and county joint operations.

Ideas proposed in the responses were wide-ranging, including one Flagstaff architect who proposed developing the Wheeler Park block across the street from City Hall into a mixed-use facility that would hold the courthouse, a local nonprofit organization proposing using some of the parcels to create affordable housing and an out-of-state company proposing moving the county Board of Supervisors’ meeting location to the eventual new municipal court building.

Five of the respondents to the request are entities within the city, or have done work in the city already. The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona, Loven Contracting and Kim Linner are all based in Flagstaff. Whiting Brothers Investment Co. also submitted a response, and is involved with the construction of the Marriot hotel downtown.

In NAIPTA’s response, the organization offered to buy some of the parcels included in the proposal, and build some of the new facilities on NAIPTA-owned land that could be leased back to the county and city. In the response, the group said NAIPTA would apply for grants based on the value of the existing municipal court property.

Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona urged the county and city to consider putting affordable housing on some of the vacant city and county-owned land. Developers who put affordable housing in the final proposals could be given higher scores, Devonna McLaughlin, the director of the nonprofit, wrote.

In Loven Contracting’s response, Mike Loven, the owner of the company, suggested that it could be beneficial to partner with a private property owner and exchange nearby land.

“At face value, the SunWest Bank Building located directly across the street from the existing courts facility may make a viable option for consolidation of space currently being leased by the county,” he wrote.

However, he added, bringing another private property owner into the project could make it more complex and lead to disagreements, so he said it could also be beneficial to the county and city to work using only their own assets.

The 57-acre parcel on Fort Valley Road behind Sechrist Elementary School is probably the most valuable of the parcels, Loven wrote. But he said the “recapture” of the money it would take to develop the land would likely take years, and the best value for the partnership might mean sticking to the parcels located in downtown.

Another respondent, the Genterra Group, based in Phoenix, suggested the city either sell the exisiting municipal court property or develop it with commercial retail and mixed use space, as well as a second parking garage. The group suggested the county’s administration building, located at 219 E. Cherry, to be either renovated or demolished and remade into the office space that the county and city requested, and suggested the new courthouse building be built at 211 N. Agassiz Street, which is currently vacant to the east of the Superior Court building.

Several of the responses included other funding mechanisms that could be used to increase the budget for the project, including other bonding opportunities or creating a third-party single purpose nonprofit organization to secure bonds. The majority of the responses focused on financing rather than specific development plans for the sites that will be included in the request for proposals.

County spokesman Matthew Rudig said the county and city are still considering the ideas submitted and crafting the request for proposals. Once the request for proposals is released, the group will rank responses and identify a winning bidder.