The story of an old furniture store, turned into a dirt lot, now with the potential to change the face of a community.
An important piece of real estate on Riverside Drive, the ‘main drag’ in Parker, Arizona, is the focus of an unusual ‘election’ this coming week.
The ‘Alewine property’ has undergone a dramatic change in recent times. It comprises 11 city blocks in total, originally home to a furniture store and some other unspecified buildings. One day a long time ago, the store’s doors closed, and for many years it sat abandoned and dilapidated, slowly deteriorating. People speculated as to what was happening to the place, who the owners were, what those other buildings were. It was all a little mysterious.
Then in 2011, out of nowhere, some of the mysteries were suddenly revealed when workers who were hired to do some cleaning made an explosive discovery: 26 sticks of old dynamite with blasting caps. Nitroglycerin crystals had formed on the outside of the dynamite, which had been ‘sweating’ its nitroglycerin into a pool in the box they were in for decades. A highly unstable situation, considering that the dynamite was 21 years past its expiry date. Whole city blocks around the property were evacuated while the Lake Havasu City bomb squad evaluated their options. It turned out there was only one way to safely neutralize the problem without posing a threat to life: set the place on fire.
The building was incinerated by law enforcement that evening as townsfolk watched. And almost exactly a year later, the old corner furniture store itself went up in flames, sealing the fate of the Alewine property, which had been there as long as most people could remember.
And the dynamite wasn’t the only interesting discovery. It turned out that some of the buildings on the property had been historical buildings, moved a long time ago from Poston Internment Camp, a U.S. camp for the Japanese during World War II that was situated in the Parker Valley. The one with the dynamite in it was the old ‘Chow Hall’, or ‘Mess Hall’.
Over the following months, all 11 city lots, zoned for commercial and industrial use, were razed to the ground. After the Alewines lost the buildings, they had decided to sell it all. The property represented one of the few undeveloped lots along that stretch of Riverside Drive. The family had reportedly turned down many offers to sell over the years, and the old store with the vintage furniture inside had stretched the imaginations of many people passing by.
“A proposal to choose Parker for a new commercial development is pending the approval of Town residents. “
Town of Parker Council decided to buy the property from the Alewine family for economic development, giving the Town some control over what happened to it. After all, it’s right on Parker’s main thoroughfare, and if the Town could curate the sale to the right developer, it could be a great thing for the area.
And that’s exactly what the Town Council says is now happening: A proposal to choose Parker for a new commercial development is pending the approval of Town residents. In an odd twist, Arizona state law says that the Town of Parker can buy a piece of property like this, but not sell it without going to a vote (if it’s worth over $500,000; see ARS. 9-403).
So, on May 20th, Town residents are being asked to vote in approval of the sale. There’s only one thing: they can’t tell you who’s buying the property. Really. This strange circumstance arises because of the competitive nature of economic development. For a big developer to choose Parker to bring their vision to fruition, they assume a lot of expenses, including escalating franchise fees, development costs and much else. Yet other cities want the same developments for their communities and are actively competing to take them. So developers typically enter into non-disclosure agreements with sellers like the Town of Parker, binding on both sides until a deal is complete, so that it protects the investment the developer is willing to make.
“The project is a home run for all concerned.”
Mayor Dan Beaver thinks residents will be proud of the development once they know what it is. “The project is a home run for all concerned,” he said. “It will change the face of Parker forever and will provide economic growth for generations to come.”
Speaking on KLPZ 1380am Friday morning, Beaver said the project is the right one for the property. “The Town of Parker has worked very closely with the La Paz Economic Development Corporation to get the right project for Parker. The Town has the final say and its leadership agrees that the project the La Paz Economic Development Corporation has delivered to them is the best possible project for the Town of Parker and its residents.”
The La Paz Economic Development Corporation was set up to bring these kinds of projects to the area. It is led by Skip Becker, whose office is housed in the Chamber of Commerce building. Becker says he’s excited about the project on the old Alewine property, and that everything is ready to go once voters approve the sale. “The deal with the franchisor is done,” he said. “As soon as they have the title to the property, the project can get going.” Becker also mentioned job creation, saying the development will provide new job opportunities for local residents.
So, Parker residents will be going to the polls Tuesday. And with them rests the future of a property long in disrepair or abandoned or empty, and the potential of making it into a viable, developed and revenue-generating enterprise.
For previous articles on the Alewine property, click HERE.