The long-awaited redevelopment of Ghost Ranch Lodge is moving forward, with units for low-income seniors expected to be available as soon as the fall.

For affordable-housing advocates, this day could not come soon enough. But for historical preservationists, it's a bitter-sweet moment, fraught with danger and possibility.

Scottsdale-based Atlantic Development and COPE Community Services are the co-developers of the project, which involves the rehabilitation of the historic hostelry on Miracle Mile and its conversion into housing for low-income seniors and physically disabled adults.

The developers plan to preserve the iconic Georgia O'Keefe cow-skull sign, the 1942 Josias Joesler buildings arranged around a courtyard on the east end of the property, and the cactus garden planted by Arthur Pack in the late 1940s.

"The Ghost Ranch Lodge will look like it did in 1943," developer Brad Davis told a group of community activists and government officials Thursday. "It will look pristine, and the new buildings will flow. I know you're going to be impressed."

The fate of four brick duplexes arranged around the cactus garden, though, remains uncertain.

Historical-preservation advocate Ken Scoville said those buildings are just as valuable as the Joesler buildings. The quality of the brick construction is very high, he said, and the arrangement of the buildings around the cactus garden represents the growing appreciation for the desert environment.

"Those buildings and the garden define those later additions," he said. "They need to be preserved at all costs."

Scoville said he sees tremendous opportunities, such as building a common room or perhaps a teahouse that would be open to the public, in the former lobby of the lodge overlooking the cactus garden.

"That would really restore some of the vibrancy and bring in the community," he said.

Davis said his architects cannot work on Phase 2 of the project until Phase 1 is complete. Until then, he will preserve the buildings so they don't deteriorate any further. He said he would try to preserve them, but the project also needs enough units to be viable.

Other buildings from the same era but to the west of the cactus garden certainly will be demolished, as will the newer buildings along the southern edge of the property.

City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, whose ward includes Ghost Ranch Lodge, said she was pleased that the developer will preserve the buildings at least until the completion of a development agreement for Phase 2, which won't start until next year.

"I think we have some common ground," she said.

Scoville said any agreement needs to be "in the strongest language possible."

The $10 million first phase of the project, funded through a combination of federal, state and local affordable-housing funds as well tax-credit financing, involves the restoration of the original Joesler buildings into 30 units of housing and the addition of another 30 units of new housing.

The project has been in the works in one form or another for seven years, but previous efforts foundered amid organizational infighting and mismanagement before the current developer took over.

"This is not going to be another false start," state Department of Housing Director Don Cardon told the crowd at a groundbreaking event Thursday. "We are not going to let this fail. And the only reason we are here today is the level of commitment from the people here."

Jane Baker, of the nearby Balboa Heights Neighborhood Association, said she was just glad that the project finally is moving forward.

"It's something we've wanted done for ages," she said. "It's got so much historic value and so many memories. I've lived here since its heyday. That's why I'm so adamant about seeing it revitalized."

Old-motel tour

The Historic Miracle Mile Open House and Tour, set for May 9, offers the public an opportunity to visit many of the historical motor courts along Miracle Mile, as well as the cactus garden at Ghost Ranch Lodge.

For more information:

• 837-6973

www.tucsonaz.gov/ planning/oarp

Contact reporter Erica Meltzer at 807-7790 or emeltzer@azstarnet.com.