Rendering by Jeff Swan of Swan Architects of what WPA Building could be once rehabilitated.
Rendering by Jeff Swan of Swan Architects of what WPA Building could be once rehabilitated.                     
Courtesy of Michelle Dodds

Arizona state and local entities recently granted more than $400,000 in funds for some major renovations of the iconic WPA Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. The partly state-owned building is also sometimes referred to as the Civic Building, the Floriculture Building, or State Fair Civic Building, In 2014, the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board slated the building for demolition to make way for vendor space. But the Phoenix preservation community piped up, leading to a one-year postponement.

Thanks to this public outcry and such organizations as the Arizona Preservation Foundation, it looks like the long-empty, Art Deco-style building will soon be refurbished.

Located near 19th and Grand avenues in the F.Q. Story Historic District, the Works Progress Administration constructed the 12,210-square-foot building in 1938 as part of the New Deal. It was originally used as the WPA’s Arizona headquarters. Since then it’s been office space, a haunted house, a mineral and gem exhibit space, and home base of the Phoenix Roadrunners hockey team. The building has been vacant since 2005, and is easily recognized recognized along McDowell Road – covered in state-fair-themed symbols (including a carousel horse, a fork, a treble clef, and of course, a sun).

“The WPA is an important piece of our city’s, state’s and our nation’s history, and it’s worth saving,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in a prepared statement back in April.

The Fair Board set an April 14 deadline to raise $120,000 for building renovations, which are estimated to total $400,000. On Wednesday, April 6, the WPA Building received a $120,000 historic preservation grant from the Phoenix City Council, followed by an $80,000 grant from the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority (IDA).

Support didn’t stop there.
WPA Building today along McDowell Road. On May 10, Governor Doug Ducey signed the 2017 fiscal year budget that included an allocation of $120,000 for the renovation of the WPA Building. This funding commitment matches $120,000 offered from the City of Phoenix. The fund-matching was a stipulation of the preservation deal. But additional support has come from the private sector by way of $40,000 in fundraising, $35,000 from a micro-dwelling, and more than $57,000 in inkind contributions for both building-specific and -related improvements. 

                                         Courtesy of Michelle Dodds

“It was a wonderful, outpouring of support, not only from … the stakeholders group, but the community at large, the City of Phoenix, the IDA, and now our state government,” says Jim McPherson, President of the Board of Directors for the Arizona Preservation Foundation, “[They’re] all saying preservation of this building is important and we will allocate funds toward it.”

McPherson also says the public investment is protected, as the plan is to preserve the building for 30 years.

“The next thing that needs to be done is to figure out who can sign the conservation easement on the state side,” says Jim McPherson. “Then we move forward in raising additional funds for other pieces of the preservation puzzle.”

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