At 106 years old, downtown's Manning House remains as showy, stately and historic as ever.
But will it survive?
The 37,000-square-foot, palm-tree-shaded, multi-winged house and its 5.2 acres were on the edge of foreclosure last month, but may have escaped that fate for now.
In its first 28 years, the Manning House was home to a pioneering Tucson mayor and entrepreneur. Six owners and multiple additions and renovations later, it ended a 17-year run as a meeting and events center nine months ago and was listed for sale at $2.48 million.
No prospective buyers have publicly surfaced. But owner Colleen Concannon said she's optimistic a buyer can be found who will preserve the historic character of the house, at 450 W. Paseo Redondo.
A Scottsdale attorney acting as a trustee for the City National Bank of Los Angeles, which holds the loan on the property, gave notice last month that the house and its acreage would be sold at public auction on May 29 at the Superior Court building downtown.
But Concannon said she persuaded the mortgage holder to call off the foreclosure sale while she negotiates a restructuring of the bank loan. An effort to sell the house to the Rio Nuevo District, the body overseeing downtown revitalization, fell flat last summer, just as previous efforts to sell it to the city of Tucson, Pima County and Tucson Electric Power failed.
She said she believes a sale will occur in the next year.
"We definitely have some interest right now," said Concannon, whose family has owned the house since 1997. "I can't say more. I'm under a confidentiality agreement."
The Los Angeles bank can't comment on matters involving its clients, said Debora Vrana, the bank's media relations manager. Trustee Joy Sullivan didn't return phone calls or an email from the Star seeking comment.
Rio Nuevo District Board Chairman Fletcher McCusker said he is pessimistic about the house's future - and that's even though he thinks the building should be saved and even though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and would need two layers of government approval to be significantly altered or demolished.
"I think that most people who look at the property think the land is worth more than the building," said McCusker
He said he thinks local government should play a role in saving the house as has happened in other cities.
Last summer, when the Rio Nuevo District tried to find a private partner to develop the property with a historic hotel, one potential buyer seemed interested in saving it but a second one didn't, McCusker said. The deal ultimately fell apart.
"It's so big, it's hard to find an economic use for it. It's on a weird place on the lot," McCusker said last week. "The people I think are interested in it are interested in the land. I think that is why she hasn't been able to find a buyer."
Concannon, however, said she "absolutely" believes she can find a buyer who will put together an economically feasible use for the building. She envisions some sort of "end user" facility, such as condos owned by their residents or an office building run by its new owners.
"It's five acres in Tucson. It's got to be worth something. It's been a social events center, an office building and a home. I simply decided I was not going to do business there anymore. I think the business definitely declined over the years, but there's lots of different uses for it."
wouldn't be demolished
The house is part of the El Presidio National Register Historic District and the Rio Nuevo-Downtown Overlay Zone. Because of that, an owner wishing to substantially alter or demolish it would need approval from the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission and the City Council, said Jonathan Mabry, the city's historic preservation officer.
While the historic preservation-minded council is unlikely to approve demolition, a number of additions to the building's rear aren't considered historic and could be removed or replaced, Mabry said.
"The building doesn't have to be frozen," he said. "It could be modified in ways sensitive to its historic character and to give it a new use."
The building is in good condition, and Concannon has done a lot to modernize it and bring it up to city codes, Rio Nuevo's McCusker added. Because of that, it has more "utility" than many other old buildings, but that's also why it's so expensive - "above what the market is willing to pay," he said.
Ken Scoville, a historic preservation activist and retired schoolteacher, takes visitors past the Manning House when he gives historic walking tours of downtown three to four times a month. He has little doubt the Manning House could find new life.
He cited the recent conversion of the downtown Reilly's Funeral Home into a pizza restaurant, and of the Monterey Court Motel and Ghost Ranch Lodge on North Miracle Mile into artisan's shops, a restaurant and housing for low-income senior citizens.
The Manning was used for office space in the 1980s and 1990s, he said, and he sees no reason that couldn't be done again. It's not on a major downtown street, but it's a nice location and a beautiful building that Concannon has done a fine job of preserving, Scoville said.
"She's given her life to that building, and exhausted herself doing the restoration and putting in the time and money to make it work," he said. "Maybe she overrestored it. But even if they tore down the meeting rooms, it is one of the more classic buildings we have left, and it could be an anchor for any development we could have there. People are scouring for historic buildings downtown today."
On StarNet: See more photos of the Manning House at azstar net.com/gallery and go to azstarnet.com/ multimedia for a poll and more information.
Did you know?
The Manning House was named for Levi Manning, Tucson's 17th mayor. The house, at 450 W. Paseo Redondo, is in the heart of the historic El Presidio neighborhood. It is known for its arched entryways, undulating cornices, turreted cylinders and rotunda.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.