In most places, City Hall is at the heart of what is historically known as “downtown.” In Maricopa, City Hall is located in the middle of what the city will be in the future.
But the story of how it got there might be a little unexpected.
Back in the early days of the city, the government was being run out of a few double-wide trailers located in the Heritage District near where the new county complex has been built. Former Mayor Anthony Smith remembers welcoming developers who wanted to make permanent investments in the city and yet were coming into temporary structures to meet with its leaders.
“We made do the best we could," he said. "But we knew we had to transform our situation and move into something bigger. As we tried to recruit people to work for our city, it was at times challenging to get them to come work in these temporary buildings.”
When first considering where to build the new City Hall, many of the founding families of Maricopa presumed it would be right next to where those trailers were. That was, to be clear, the heart of the city historically and continued to be a central location as more and more home developers came in.
But Smith said the asking price for land in the Heritage District was way beyond what the city could afford at the time, seeing as it was in the middle of the Great Recession and had to reduce staff by 18% one year and 15% the next.
At another point, the City Council considered the Peed property north of State Route 238, but Smith recalled it being too small for everything they wanted to do with it, and the infrastructure problems that have been well known to those traveling on SR 238 were something to consider as well.
Then, a big piece of land off White and Park Road became available.
“As we stayed patient, land prices started dropping,” Smith said. “It’s a sizable piece of property, and we basically got it at fire sale prices because builders and developers were going out of business.”
But there was one small problem. Well, actually, it wasn’t small at all, especially for those with a strong sense of smell.
There were already 70,000 four-legged residents in and around that land as cattle feedlots had taken over amid the housing downturn. And with all those cows came a level of odor, dust and flies that was already keeping major developments like a Central Arizona College campus and Banner medical center away from that part of town.
Indeed, the cattle stretched all the way from Walmart to well past the ethanol plant, killing off any hope for development.
So Smith knew he had to make a deal. The land was being leased to the cattle companies by El Dorado Holdings, a fortuitous thing because that was the major developer in the creation of Maricopa, and its owner, Mike Ingram, already had a good working relationship with the city.
So Smith set up a meeting with Ingram to figure out how to get the cattle off that land.
“You gotta understand that was a big ask,” Smith said. “El Dorado Holdings was depending on this revenue during a very skinny time for them. To do this transaction required a very, very difficult arrangement.”
Kevin Adams, the city manager at the time, helped facilitate a deal that would move all 70,000 cattle off the property and down south close to State Route 84 near Stanfield.
That was a scary move personally for Smith, who worked at the ethanol plant at the time and thought that losing the cattle would threaten his employment. The plant survived that move, it turned out.
Ingram canceled the lease agreements with the cattle companies, and Smith said it immediately improved the health of the whole community.
“It was the most significant deal during my time as mayor,” Smith said. “It was key to opening up growth in some very critical areas.”
City Hall opened in 2013 with all the amenities a real city could want. Now, when developers and investors want to meet with the mayor, they do so in lavish conference rooms, not wherever there’s space in a double-wide.
And from there has come the police headquarters (about to be replaced with a new one next door), a state-of-the-art library and cultural center, and plenty of room for more.
Waiting for the bigger piece of land paid off.
Some might feel confused about where City Hall is located, as it currently sticks out in the middle of a mostly empty desert, outside the edge of where the west part of the city has developed while still being about a mile away from the eastern part. While it turns out this was mostly due to the land prices at the time, now the city envisions when those two sides of Maricopa will converge, with a Civic Center right in the middle of it all.
Smith wasn’t able to fully enjoy the building he had worked to get built. By the time it opened, he had become a Pinal County supervisor, and Christian Price was the mayor who took the first stroll through the completed facility. Things did come full circle, as Smith’s wife, Nancy, is now mayor.
Oddly, the same thing would happen years later as he approved the construction of the new county administrative center in the Heritage District, only to retire as supervisor right before it opened.
But Smith said he harbored no jealousy over any of this and that the growth of the city he has served for so many years is the most important thing.
“I believe that some people are planters and others harvest what is planted,” Smith said. “I see myself as more of a planter.”