October 11, 2006 - The formal planning for one of Oro Valley's most historic sites is finally underway. But the battle to gain control of Steam Pump Ranch is not over yet.
Oro Valley Community Development Director Brent Sinclair said the town still has not purchased the ranch. But he said the town, county and developer who owns the land, have informally agreed on a price and the town will gain control of the 15-acre site, though Sinclair wouldn't say when.
George Pusch, sometimes referred to as Oro Valley's first resident, built the ranch in the 1870s. It includes a unique steam pump that provided settlers and travelers water while journeying through the desert.
The town has been trying to get control of Steam Pump Ranch since 2004, when it pushed for a $2 million county bond package to pay for the four-acre core of the site. The town later decided to buy the whole 15-acre site, and convinced the county to transfer to the ranch $3 million that would've gone to expand the Naranja Town Site.
Sinclair said the tentative agreed upon acquisition price is $4.5 million. The town filed a condemnation lawsuit in January after it could not agree on a price with developer Michael Naifeh of OVB Partners, Heights Properties and the county. Naifeh wanted to develop the property for commercial use. The county controls the bond money.
Naifeh confirmed that he has agreed on a price with the town and county, and now is waiting for the deal to go through.
"I'm looking forward to the resolution of this," Naifeh said in a phone interview, though he wouldn't say when he expected the deal to be complete.
"It's our mission to satisfy the county that we get a good price, and that we agree on a price OVB partners will accept," said Melinda Garrahan, Oro Valley town attorney.
The land, which is located north of First Avenue off of Oracle Road, was independently appraised at about $3.7 million in 2005.
"Once you factor in appraisals and the value of property, we got as good of a price as we could," Sinclair said.
The council unanimously approved at its Oct. 4 meeting $50,000 for Sinclair to hire a consultant and start master planning the site.
"The master plan will be a process to determine what's the best way to preserve and add features to the site," Sinclair said. "We'll determine what's appropriate."
Sinclair said he has received dozens of recommendations for what the land should become including museums, a visitors center, offices and park features.
But before any of that can happen, Sinclair said the town has to conduct building, environmental and archeological assessments.
The ranch's historic buildings, one of which houses the steam pump, are in desperate need of repair. Each building needs a stabilization plan, Sinclair said.
"We need to see if anything needs to be stabilized immediately, then look at the long term restorations and rehabs," he said.
If the town ends up paying $4.5 million for the land, it will have about $500,000 left in bond money for restorations and new features.
Sinclair told the council that once he hires a consultant and begins the assessments, he would come back to the council to let it discuss what it wants on the site.
Jim Kreigh, town founder and historical society member, said he would love to see the buildings rehabilitated and a visitors center created.
He told the council Robert Shelton, who used to run Old Tucson Studios in the 1960s and came to the council in April to discuss putting a movie memorabilia museum on the site, is still interested. But a few council members seemed skeptical about a museum's potential costs.
"Bob Shelton is very interested in it, and a lot of people around OV are interested in it," Kreigh said. "I think it could be a very attractive draw for citizens and tourists."
Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth said she was leery of using town money for a commercial business, and Councilwoman Paula Abbott questioned the costs associated with having to provide the memorabilia a climate controlled building.
But Sinclair said the Oct. 4 meeting was too early to debate possible site features. After all, the town doesn't even have the land yet.