ELOY — City officials are wrestling with the question of what to do with the old Dust Bowl Theatre.
During a study session on Nov. 4, Community Development Director Jon Vlaming presented the Eloy City Council with different alternatives that the Downtown Advisory Commission had come up with, ranging from preserving and refurbishing the building to demolishing it.
The last time the building was in decent shape was in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Eloy Ministerial Alliance owned it and was working on remodeling it. But the building has not actually been used since 1989.
Manuel Salas, with the alliance, described the conditions inside the building when the alliance first bought it as “stepping into a bird cage that had not been cleaned out in quite a while.”
The scene was nearly identical as current council members and city staff walked inside the building last week.
Vice Mayor Micah Powell asked Vlaming during the study session how much it would cost to simply make the building functional.
Vlaming responded that after reviewing the structural analysis, it would be more cost effective to raze the building and start over rather than trying to rehabilitate it.
He added that because the building does have some emotional ties to the community, sometimes the costs are higher because the community wants to keep a particular building.
Councilman Jose Garcia is against having the building torn down because it holds so many memories. He pointed out that the city has not looked at the historical value of the theater.
“I think it should come to the historic board,” Garcia said. “One of the things I do remember is although Mickey’s (Cafe) was not a building that belonged to the city, the city took a lot of heat because the owner decided to demolish Mickey’s rather than trying to save it and improve it.
“I’d hate to have to go through all that for a building that we do own,” he added. “It is sentimental to many people, many of them are in their upper years and many of us remember the first movie that we saw there and the last movie that we saw there.”
According to the options from the Downtown Advisory Commission, it would cost between $100,000 and $125,000 to stabilize the building and upgrade the facade.
To completely demolish the building would cost $125,000 or more and to simply stabilize the building would be between $50,000 and $75,000.
While council members are undecided on what to do with the building, they agreed that the area is a focal point for the city and it should not become a parking lot.
“What do you need a parking lot for downtown? There’s no businesses there for people to drive to downtown,” Councilman J.W. Tidwell said. “You tear down the building and all I see is another vacant lot on Main Street for tumbleweeds and mesquite bushes to grow. If you want to use the fact that it’s an eyesore, I could use that as an argument for two or three other buildings on Main Street. Or are we going to tear them down too?”
Powell countered Tidwell’s argument by stating that many community members jump at the chance of having a house demolished because it has deteriorated over time after the owner moved out.
“We as council hear a lot about this house and this house and the first thing they say is you need to go tear down this house and the city is really quick to go tear down somebody’s house. But when it comes to something like this we want to spend all this money,” Powell said. “If we’re going to be doing this why don’t we give the residents the money and let them rebuild their house. We’re quick to authorize a house being torn down, and there’s an empty lot. You talk about empty lots and now there’s blocks with empty lots because we have generously bulldozed those houses down.
“We have the same situation here where we have a building that has deteriorated and the people around there keep saying tear it down but nobody cares about the neighborhoods and the memories in all those houses,” he said.
Councilman Andrew Rodriguez is in favor of knocking down the building after talking with some community members who believe that with a new City Hall building and a renovated police station in the downtown area, the rest of the area should have a similar appearance.
Powell added that he’s all about moving forward and putting a fresh look on things. He mentioned that turning the area into an amphitheater would be nice and it would give the Veterans Center a place to host its events.
Councilman Georges Reuter chimed in with leaving the front of the building to give off the impression of the theater but gutting the inside of the building and leaving it open for outdoor activities.
“I’ve just been on council for a year and I’ve talked to Jon long before that but apparently the City Council all these past years, they didn’t do anything,” Reuter said. “I was not there but either way we act or we don’t act. I told Jon years ago that Eloy should have a place that is semi museum, semi event center, something that the new people and old people of Eloy can use.”