Council, DDA discuss Observer wall, green space 2015.12.09

By DAVID GREEN

A new office building with storage in the back? A multi-purpose building for a farmer's market and special events? An area for public art? A mural for the Observer wall?

A range of ideas was discussed Thursday when Morenci's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) met with the city council to talk about the green space located between the Observer and Home Town Hardware.

Although no conclusion was reached, there was general agreement that there must be something better than the old plaster stuck to the wall and the use of the green space as a dog restroom.

DDA president Tim Decker told council that his group has discussed the property, along with thinking of ways to improve the downtown, and he wanted to know what council members thought about the area.

One approach, Decker said, would require city council to donate the land to the DDA and then the group would construct a building that could be sold so the property could return to the tax roll. Alternately, a building could be owned by the DDA and used as a farmer's market or antique mall and for special occasions. He mentioned that someone might want to display art in the building or perhaps the school band would want to give a concert in the location.

He described the structure as having sliding garage doors and partitions that could be removed depending on the event.

"We would have to find out how many people are interested in using it," Decker said.

He also conceded that the area might not be large enough for that project.

DDA member Matt Garrow mentioned that crowd funding might be used in conjunction with a state "community spaces" grant.

State funds don't have as many strings attached as federal grants, said city administrator/clerk Michael Sessions, but the money would have to go for something like a community green space project rather than a building.

"I don't see where leaving it grass would be the direction the DDA would go," Decker said.

DDA director Crystal White mentioned the possibility of a building with a mural on the bricks above it. Decker suggested that a mural should be placed in a more visible location such as the north side of the Dunbar Furniture building, the side of the Pub, or on the building adjacent to the Deli.

Morenci Garden Club member Becky Schermerhorn said the Observer wall is a very visible location and her group has discussed a mural along with a gazebo on the green space.

Council member Leonie Leahy suggested looking into a community-painted mural to get more community involvement. A professional muralist draws the design and assigns the colors, then community members can paint a portion. Some cities have used the method as a fund-raiser to pay for the mural.

"I would want it to look professional and be enduring," she said.

Sessions said he would check to see if a crowd-funded mural project would be eligible for the state grant program.

Schermerhorn suggested, as a temporary measure, to paint the Observer wall a solid color and hang painted quilt designs on the wall. The plywood sheets could be taken down if a mural was to be painted.

"If it's made into a community space," said councilor Jeffrey Lampson, "it's important to get the community involved."

He liked the idea of selling commemorative bricks for a pathway, as business owner Mike Broge mentioned was done in Tecumseh in a space for public art.

"I'm not opposed to a mural," Decker said, "but I was hoping to get the property back on the tax rolls."

Besides that, he said, a mural will be vandalized and he wondered who would pay to repair it.

Council member Sean Seger said he's a proponent of keeping it a green space, but the dog issue would have to be rectified.

"I have concerns about building something for storage," he added. "I don't think it would be of benefit."

Morenci mayor Jeff Bell said that he likes the idea of a mural, and he wondered if that area could adequately serve as a farmer's market due to the small space. The parking lot is often nearly full.

He suggested that two council members should meet with two DDA members to look into ideas more closely.

"Lots of ideas were presented," he said. "Now we need to narrow the focus."

Jennifer Blaker and Decker volunteered from the DDA. They will meet with council members Lampson and Leahy. The public is invited to join the discussion. The group will meet at 6 p.m. Jan. 12 in city hall.