Picayune is growing; why sell Arizona Chemical property?

Published 3:53 pm Thursday, September 24, 2009

When the old City Council bought the Arizona Chemical property following Hurricane Katrina at a fire sale price, it had been for sale for a couple of years with no takers.

The city needed to do something at the time. The mayor and council were under pressure to make the old City Hall handicapped accessible, and both the administrations of Greg Mitchell and the previous administration of Woody Spiers had tried to do so, but found the cost prohibitive, especially if it was done without destroying the historic nature of the building, built in 1938 as a Works Progress Adminstration project and designed by then-famous English architect Wilford Lockyer. Has all of this suddenly changed, or does the current mayor and city council not care about how making the building handicapped accessible would affect its historic qualities?

Something else has been going on for the past several years also. The Picayune Police Department has been struggling to fit in the Criminal Justice Center, originally built to house the police department, the jail and Municipal Court. Various parts of the police department have had to occupy rented space until the city administration moved from the historic City Hall to the old Arizona Chemical facility.

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Now parts of the police department find office space in the historic City Hall. Where will these offices go after city offices move back in? How much is the city going to have to pay in rent for space to provide the police department with the space a modern police department needs? As the city grows, and the police department and other parts of city government grow to handle the expanding city limits and population, how much more space is the city going to have to rent, or buy, and at what price?

The property the city gained when it bought the old Arizona Chemical site provides plenty of room for constructing a new Criminal Justice Center and for consolidating other portions of city government that are now spread out around the city so that those having any business with the city would have only one place to go.

Further, the Arizona Chemical property has other unique features, such as its frontage on Hobolochitto Creek and a small lake, all of which could be turned into a park with a walking trail through beautiful settings, a place where people could go fishing and to bird-watch, and a portion of the area outside of the natural settings could be used for a dog park, a growing and welcome feature in many other cities. Further, what other uses could this landlocked piece of property be put to by a potential buyer? Its location makes it difficult for industrial use, given nearby residential areas and restricted transportation routes.

If this property is sold, all of its unique value for city offices and parks goes away. At some point in the not too distant future, the city will find itself having to buy space to build a new criminal justice center, space for an expanding public works division and space for many other offices as demands for public services grows with the city.

We are facing tough ecnomic times now, but selling this property won’t solve the economic problems and will ensure only that we face tough economic times in the future, for the price of property to meet the city’s expanding needs for offices and other space will only increase.

Members of this administration need to worry less about what they believe they should do to be ensure that they will be returned to office during the next election cycle and worry more about the city’s future and growing needs. With the Arizona Chemical property, which was very inexpensive at the time it was bought, the city ensures its future needs for space at costs much lower than they otherwise would be.

Further, the chance to have a park to meet the needs of residents who have no interest in playing some form of organized sports, especially one with the unique natural features a portion of the Arizona Chemical property offer, probably won’t be available again at any price.

The move to sell this property appears to be more a move for the current administration to separate itself from the one it is replacing than a move designed to really meet any overwhelming need that the city may now have. Unless the city has a buyer that it isn’t telling anyone about, the property is likely to sit there for years as it has in the past. If the city does have a buyer, why hasn’t that buyer been revealed?

This property is in some parts so unique and is large enough to handle easily identified city needs in the very near future that city residents need to have more of a say in what happens to it than just allowing the current administration to sell it off, especially if there is some unknown buyer in the background that has approached the city, or one or more of this administration’s members, about purchasing it.

Somebody needs to be looking out for the city’s future, but it’s really questionable with this latest decision as to whether the current administration is doing so, though presumably that should be part of its job.