For several years now, the Ghost Ranch Lodge has sat empty, its cactus garden and historic buildings sealed off by chain-link fencing.
Instead of being a monument to Tucson's history, the lodge, on West Miracle Mile near North Oracle Road, became a monument to stagnation.
The abandoned inn was supposed to be turned into quality, low-cost housing for the elderly. The project never came to fruition, as the non-profit developer, Development Design Group, buckled under the financial strain that comes with mismanagement and infighting.
But the property is now under new ownership. Mesa-based developer Mark Breen purchased it last summer, and his group, Atlantic Development, has plans to follow through on the conversion to affordable housing for the elderly.
The city has money set aside to support the project, and on Tuesday the Pima County Board of Supervisors will consider sending a letter to the state Department of Housing, asking the state to support the new developer.
Numerous efforts to speak with Breen — by phone, e-mail and through his attorney — were unsuccessful. However, Tucson Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, whose ward includes Ghost Ranch, said the developer has plans to convert the inn to 60 units specifically for seniors.
"The first phase is 60 one-bedroom units," Uhlich said. "They are contemplating the possibility of a second phase of the project that would include either senior or family housing."
Many of the units at Ghost Ranch were designed by prominent Tucson architect Josias Joesler, and artist Georgia O'Keeffe designed its cow-skull sign. Uhlich said Breen expressed a desire to preserve the inn's historic significance.
"It's a place in the life of the community," she said. "So many people have been married there and held family gatherings there. It was really a significant center of the community."
The project will, in many ways, mirror the one proposed by Development Design Group, which had planned to use tax credits along with local and federal grant funds. The city had pledged $507,000 to the Ghost Ranch Lodge project and expressed an interest in providing an additional $300,000 in funds if Development Design Group could right its ship.
Emily Nottingham, director of the city's Community Services Department, who has had several meetings with Breen stretching back to last summer, said those funds are still available for the project, regardless of who is the developer.
"They will need to submit a formal proposal for us, and we will need to review it," she said. "The money is still set aside with the project."
By the looks of it, the project will likely have the support of the county Board of Supervisors, which will vote Tuesday on sending a letter of support to the state to provide funding for Atlantic Development.
"While the Joesler buildings, Georgia O'Keeffe signage, and the unique gardens and courtyard are historically significant to Tucson, without your and our financial support and timely commencement of work at the site, it greatly concerns us that we will lose this invaluable resource to our cultural heritage," the letter says.
In particular, the supervisors want to reassure state officials that the new developer is financially sound, after the problems encountered by the last owners.
"In addition to the resources available through the City, County and State, this complicated effort has needed a more seasoned and financially capable developer," the letter says. "We believe we have found such an organization with Mark Breen and Atlantic Development."
Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who represents the area and signed the letter, said the project is important to the community, and the county will do what it can to help.
"I think we have the right partners now, and we need to move forward for the community," she said.
Marcos Ysmael, a housing program coordinator with Pima County's Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation Department, said the county has had some discussions with the new developers and expects to receive a request for affordable-housing bond funds.
Pima County has roughly $6 million left in the 2004 affordable-housing bond program. The money generally goes toward public infrastructure improvements associated with the project.
The developers have met with neighbors, as well, at the Ward 3 council office.
Jane Baker, a longtime community activist and president of the Balboa Heights Neighborhood Association, said she was very encouraged by what she heard, though many details haven't been worked out.
"The one thing we all stressed was our concern for the historic value of the property to be maintained," Baker said. "They intend to keep the neighborhood informed and involved."
With its signature sign, historic architecture and central location on Miracle Mile, the Ghost Ranch Lodge property is a key piece in the redevelopment of the area.
"It's encouraging to me to see the revitalization of the strip," said Baker, who has lived in the area for 40 years. "I knew it when it was one way. Now it's another way. And it's sad. We're fighting for our quality of life here."
Read more about the Ghost Ranch Lodge in this story's online version at azstarnet.com/metro.
DID YOU KNOW ...
For more than 60 years, Ghost Ranch Lodge's red-tiled roofs, manicured lawns and cow-skull sign — the latter designed by famed artist Georgia O'Keeffe — welcomed travelers to the once-thriving tourist strip known as West Miracle Mile.
Arthur Pack, owner of the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico — a favorite spot of O'Keeffe's — came to Tucson with his wife, Phoebe, in 1941 to build the lodge. In front of it, the Packs installed the skull logo, a wedding gift from O'Keeffe.