City won't rescue Marist College; diocese contemplates demolition

2012-09-12T00:00:00Z 2012-09-12T09:38:57Z City won't rescue Marist College; diocese contemplates demolitionDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 12, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Taxpayer money won't be going to save the crumbling Marist College building after all.

And with a deal between the city and Catholic Diocese of Tucson to save the historic property falling apart, a statement issued by the church raises the question of how long the downtown landmark will remain.

"The Diocese lacks funds to restore the building, since maintaining 76 parishes and 26 schools heavily strains its resources. Without sufficient funds, the Diocese feels the only possible way to deal with the deteriorating Marist College, which has become a liability, is to tear it down, preserving some of the facade for historical purposes as a tribute to the surrounding historic barrio," the statement says.

John Shaheen, diocese property director, said there are no immediate plans to take the building down, but there are limits on how long it can remain in limbo.

In July, the Tucson City Council voted 5-2 to approve $1.1 million in federal Community Development and Block Grant funds to stabilize the historic building.

But before the diocese received any money, certain conditions had to be met.

"Mayor and council had given me specific direction on how to proceed," said City Manager Richard Miranda. "And based on that, we couldn't reach an agreement with the diocese."

The impasse arose over who would eventually end up owning the building once repairs were completed. The diocese wanted to maintain ownership. The city hoped a private entity would enter the picture and finish transforming the building into a usable condition and open some type of revenue-generating business with it.

But that private developer never emerged during the 45 days of negotiations.

Housing and Community Development Director Albert Elias said that since no private developer was willing to inject $2 million or more into a building it couldn't own, the city decided to end the negotiations.

"The city could not achieve the goal of both saving the building and finding private investment," Elias said. "It became clear over the past week or two, we couldn't satisfy council's (conditions)."

Now that the city is out of the picture, the diocese is forced back to the drawing board regarding what to do with the dilapidated edifice.

"We're back to square one," Shaheen said. "It's a setback right now, but we will look to try to find other ways to fix it."

He said as long as the building doesn't deteriorate into a public hazard, the diocese will continue to find ways to repair it.

"We want to keep it," he said. "But the day it becomes a hazard, we have to look at ways to bring it down."

The building, owned by St. Augustine Cathedral Parish, is the only three-story unfired adobe building remaining in Arizona, the diocese says. It was originally a boys' school, then later enrolled girls and also became the first integrated school in Tucson. It served as a parish school before eventually housing some Diocese of Tucson offices. The building has been vacant since 2002.

City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, who voted for giving money to repair the building, said she hopes the diocese finds a way to preserve the historic landmark. "That was what the council intended when we voted for it," she said.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said he was glad the money wasn't going to be squandered on a broken building.

"We shouldn't have been giving money to it anyway," said Kozachik, who voted against the measure in July. "There are plenty of other, more deserving projects to give it to."

The $1.1 million will now be redirected to other historic-preservation projects.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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