Bisbee council seeks bids to demolish century-old City Hall

Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 6:09 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Bisbee’s City Hall went up in flames in October of 2017. The fire, believed to have been sparked by an electrical issue, caused substantial damage. All that remains are the outer walls of the building.

Looking out at where his office once stood, Mayor David Smith says the memories flood back.

“A lot of decisions were made here,” he said.

For him, it’s time to move forward.

“I want a building for under $2 million,” said Smith, “and it can be done, but probably not at the location where the old building is.”

The City received about $2 million from insurance. Smith told us he doesn’t want to burden the taxpayers by spending more than that on a rebuild.

City staff are currently working out of the former Juvenile Detention Center, leased to them by Cochise County for $1 a year.

This month, Bisbee City Council voted to put out a call for proposals to determine the cost of demolishing and removing the old city hall.

“I need to know how much it is going to cost to demo the building, because it needs to come down, and then the difference is how much we have to build a new city hall,” said Smith.

That decision doesn’t sit well with several residents, including Michael McPartlin.

“This structure represents our mining history,” said McPartlin. “It has been the city hall for this community for a long period of time.”

Built in the early 1900’s, the former city hall has been at the center of debate as many seek to restore it.

“Historic preservation is often not the easiest path, but it’s often not a cost-prohibitive path either,” said McPartlin.

Smith says the building is not listed as a “historic building” on the National Register.

However, the Warren district of Bisbee; where the old city hall is located, is seeking historic status for the entire district.

“It was a historic structure, and it’s situated in the context of a historic commercial and residential neighborhood,” said McPartlin.

According to Smith, the back and forth on whether to restore the building or tear it down and rebuild it in the same location, or even a different location, has been dragging out the process.

“We have people that are looking at city hall as a necessity, and then we have people that are looking at it as more of a monument,” said Smith. “When we have a divergence of opinions, then things take longer. We have had studies, meetings with input from the community, facilitated sessions … but the bottom line is, to be fiscally responsible, we only have the money we got from the insurance company.”

McPartlin believes how long it’s taking to come up with a decision is intentional.

“Perhaps the building is now too far gone to be preserved,” he said. “But the evaluations that were done initially after the fire and the clearing of the debris in the interior suggested the building was salvageable, at that time, but now several years have gone by. So, time has been wasted when the building could have been preserved, at least the exterior reinforced concrete structure that at this point, this is what the City Council and Mayor are providing as the “most viable option”. To me, that is just wholly disappointing and that doesn’t speak well to the kind of leadership that was exercised with what to do with our city hall.”

Bids should come back in the spring, which is when the City will likely decide on whether to go ahead with demolition. If that route is taken, a new city hall could be up and running by next year.

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