Vets’ hope for new home dashed; bar to be demolished by city

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To the dismay of members of the local American Legion post, the Maricopa City Council decided Oct. 7 to award a contract to Southwest Desert Builders Inc. to demolish the building on the southeast corner of John Wayne Parkway and Honeycutt Road.

The city acquired the former La Roca nightclub for $240,000 after condemning it last year in preparation for the highway overpass.

The veterans asked Council to postpone its decision 30 to 45 days to allow them to further research whether it’s feasible for the American Legion post to lease the building from the city.

“It’s a vacant property that is an eyesore for the city, and it does, honestly, stand in the way of progress; I am firmly aware of that,” said Eric Lacz, advocating for the veterans’ group.

“This city is struggling for meeting places. We don’t have enough meeting places for nonprofits to meet. The reason I suggest the American Legion is they are a nonprofit organization that can step in and make a difference right away with this building.”

“Vacant buildings are a health hazard to the city,” Director of Public Works Bill Fay said. “They attract homeless, meth, that kind of stuff; so once they get vacated, my old rule was to get them down in three days.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t repurpose a building. It does mean a vacant building is a dangerous issue.”

Fay said the building is currently uninhabitable, needs a new roof and is not connected to water, sewer or electricity.

“I would encourage you to either repurpose this building or demolish it,” Fay said. “Let’s not sit on the fence; to do so is to invite some trouble.”

His “very rough” projection of the cost to repurpose the building is $100,000 to $150,000.

Vice Mayor Edward Farrell said Fay’s estimate is “quite low,” and it would cost more than that to bring the building up to code. He said just a new fire sprinkler system would cost $20,000 to $25,000.

Mayor Christian Price said he is in favor of creative ways to create more space in Maricopa, but his primary concern is the potential liability of leasing the building after it has already been condemned.

“If we initiated the process of condemnation, that means we told the existing owner that this horrendous, and that it’s terrible, and that it’s a safety hazard, and to that end it’s going to do the greater good by allowing the (SR 347) overpass to go here, and you take it away from that owner and then to turn around and say ‘now we’re going to use it for something else, I think we open ourselves up for an enormous lawsuit,” Price said. “I can’t in good conscience justify putting the taxpayers and 50,000 people at risk for that type of lawsuit.”

Price also cited the potential liability of crime occurring on the now-publicly advertised vacant happening and the cost.

Councilwoman Julia Gusse said a vacant building in Eloy was recently repurposed into a veterans’ center and largely funded by the Home Depot Foundation.