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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news September 15, 2014

1/31/2013 9:59:00 PM
Granite Dells Partnership takes resort acquisition proposal to Prescott council
Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - Advocates of preserving the historic Granite Dells Resort have come up with an acquisition plan that would take the City of Prescott out of the equation for management of the resort's remaining buildings.

When the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation initially proposed that the City of Prescott buy the 83-acre resort site as open space, one of the city's concerns centered on the management of the resort's remaining 1920s- and 1930s-era buildings.

The parcel - complete with an original dance hall, boat house, and remains of a 3-million-gallon swimming lake - would come with challenges that would go beyond the city's usual parks and recreation responsibilities, officials said.

Foundation members have since honed their plans, and are now proposing - as the Granite Dells Partnership - that the city buy about 80 acres of the granite-studded land that surrounds the old resort, while the three-acre resort site itself would be the responsibility of the non-profit organization.

A presentation on the details of the plan is scheduled to go to the Prescott City Council next week.

The Granite Dells Partnership, a consortium of community groups, will present its plan during the council's workshop at 3 p.m. Tuesday, at Prescott City Hall, 201 S. Cortez St.

The organization's concept paper on the project states: "With the City of Prescott acquisition (of the 80 acres), the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation is committed to the separate acquisition and management of the historic Granite Dells Resort buildings and surrounding three acres."

Dan Campbell, a member of the foundation board, was hopeful this week that the parcel's owner would, in turn, "gift" the crucial three-acre parcel to the foundation.

Mark Wirth, the owner of the entire 83-acre parcel, said Thursday that he is contemplating such a donation. "I would definitely entertain that, and I have signed a letter to that effect," he said.

Along with acquiring the three-acre resort tract, the partnership also would agree to conduct a master-planning process for the entire 83 acres, and would raise the money for the old resort's operation and maintenance, according to the concept paper.

Although the exact sum of money for the master plan and maintenance is yet to be determined, Campbell said the partnership is committed to raising it.

And, he said, the idea has generated encouraging feedback from area philanthropic organizations. "We've been getting blinking green lights" from area foundations, he said, adding that those groups are closely watching the level of interest by the city.

Along with discussions with possible donors, Campbell said Granite Dells advocates have had a series of meetings with council members and other city officials.

"We had four sessions that looked very promising," Campbell said. On Tuesday, the partnership plans to ask the council to take the next step: Meeting with Wirth to talk about the possibility of updating the property's appraisal.

(Wirth earlier reported that the most recent appraisal, which took place at the peak of the real estate market, valued the land at about $7 million. Today, experts estimate the value at about $4.3 million, although that number is not based on a recent appraisal).

Councilman Jim Lamerson said Wednesday that he has a number of questions for the partnership about the property's value, as well as the city's responsibility for preserving it.

"My opinion is, the value should be based on tax records - what it's on the tax rolls for," Lamerson said.

He also questioned whether it should be up to the city to preserve land that is located outside city limits.

The partnership answers a number of the frequently asked questions about the project in a "questions and answers" section in its concept paper. The entire proposal is available online on the city's website at www.cityofprescott.net, under the "city meetings" section.

The foundation has suggested that the city pay for the purchase with revenue from the streets/open space sales tax initiative that voters approved in 2000.

While the city indicated at the time that it would spend as much as $40.7 million of the revenue on open space acquisitions over the coming 15 years, it has so far spent about $16 million. The sales tax expires in 2015.

Over the years, the city has opted to devote the bulk of the 1-percent sales tax revenue to street improvements.

But advocates say a number of factors have converged to bring urgency to the Granite Dells purchase.

"The opportunity to purchase this property, at a time when land values are at an historic low and the current owner wishes to see it preserved for recreational us, is unprecedented and urgent," states the partnership's proposal.

The Granite Dells Resort was a popular recreational gathering spot for area residents for decades in the 1900s. Wirth currently uses the property as a summer and vacation retreat for his family.

Related Stories:
• Granite Dells Resort supporters appeal to Prescott Council for preservation

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Article comment by: Frank C

As a former resident of rural Yavapai County, I have fond childhood memories of swimming and exploring at Granite Dells. It would be great to have this facility restored as a private enterprise, whether it is for-profit or not.

However, the proposed transaction/project should be a private sector undertaking without the City land purchase. Public/Private partnerships and "deals" such as what appears to be proposed here warrant scrutiny. I would urge local taxpayers and their representatives to investigate and assess all of the public and private interests involved.

For example, there appears to be substantial private landholding interests surrounding this property in the name of Granite Dells Ranch Holdings LLC and others. Further, it appears that the City of Prescott already holds title to at least two significant parcels in the vicinity. While these holdings may not be directly related to the transaction in question, they should be understood as potential background along with all other potentially related factors/interested parties.

Without knowing all of the details and circumstances, I am impressed with Mr. Wirth's position here. It looks like he makes a double play. In a difficult property market, he monetizes a substantial property investment via a sale to the City and creates a taxable gain offset or credit through the land donation to the preservation society. Very well done!

Taxpayers and their fiduciary representatives should be skeptical as to the use of public funds in this way and avoid the appearance or actual occurrence of deploying public funds to benefit a narrow private interest without an equal or better return accruing to the public.

Proceed with caution and eyes wide open!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: pay to use our purchased property?

Let's hope they don't set up some facilities and charge the public (the people whose taxes purchased the place) to attend. Rather like buying a house outright and then having some outside group charge you admission if you want to enter your own home.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

@ Mark Smith: Slide Rock is fed by Oak Creek and Fossil Creek near Strawberry (flows into the Verde) is fed by natural spring so the water is constantly flowing and swimming is safe. Our lakes are basically big dammed up puddles. Nice to look at not safe to swim in. Many critters and bacteria.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Tax Payer

What an incredible opportunity. My understanding is the Granite Dells partnership will assume planning, operations, and maintenance. Lamerson's comment about tax records is silly. Is he suggesting that if I sell my house I have to base the price on tax records? Wow? This exactly what I want my tax dollars spent on. This is what the citizens voted for in 2000. Long live the Dells!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Here's the Deal:

This place would be good for these things: Hiking in the rocks, weddings, barbeques, retreats and other shigdigs with food. The city doesn't want to get into the shindig business (for good reason, it's a pain and you can lose money at it). So they should let another outfit do the shindigs and give them part of the money as long as they build the buildings and keep it up.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Marc Smith

...take a look at the many related stories over the past couple of years, and a few facts: Prescott has 5 lakes, and it is illegal to swim in ALL of them. Both Slide Rock and Fossil Creek have been overwhelmed with users, and the Forest Service has had to close roads due to high demand. The City is expanding the capacity of Goldwater Lake, but it will still be illegal to swim there. The City of Prescott is winding down their management of the restaurant at the golf course, as dining and similar attractions are really not under their purview. So, I think it is great that this group will keep the Open Space purchase and management as a welcome part of the city and taxpayers' realm, and leave the resort and swimming hole possibilities separate, just as the restaurant at Antelope Hills shall be. Take a look at the Grand Canyon and similar parks: many successful examples already exist of concessionaires managing amenities in Public Lands in a win-win arrangement which frees the supervising agency from the nitty-gritty sevices but serves the public users well, from food and outfitting to rafting and guide services. Please, City Council: our roads are fine now, and this kind of open space purchase is exactly what I had in mind when I voted for the tax. The timing is perfect--don't let us down!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

I am assuming the buildings are teardowns and the lake will never see water. If so then what I would want to know is where does this Granite Dells Preservation Foundation plan to get the money to put up buildings, what events/activities do they plan to have there, and will they be able to charge fees to have events there? Essentially they want 3 acres of pretty scenic land for free, surrounded by city property. Show me the money.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Turn it into a public swimming place

We would love to see a public swimming place reminiscent of the good old days.
Please make sure there is plenty of parking and also let it be handicap accessible.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Captain Howdy

So what happens after the city buys this land? Is the partnership going to rebuild the resort and open it to the public?
Or is just going to sit there and make the city no money, just like the Golf Cource?
I say no. That is my tax money and I do not want it spent on junk.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: A Rigged Deal?

Let me try to get this straight. If the city overpays, the owner will give part of that property to a separate entity to own and manage?

Has anyone seen the 'buildings' that supposedly exist, or just the old photos? If I am not mistaken, there is only rubble and dilapidated structures left, nothing like the pictures of people in their bathing suits cavorting.

I think this is a scheme and the city should NOT get involved. If it is such a good idea, the private sector would be all over it! It sounds like another example of private interests using public funds to position themselves to profit in the future.

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