Mesa is considering buying the historic Buckhorn Baths to preserve the place where some of baseball’s most legendary players came for decades to sooth themselves in hot mineral water.
The Mesa City Council is weighing the purchase along with park improvements across the community, as well as considering whether it will ask residents to fund the projects in a November bond election.
The Buckhorn’s future has been a concern to preservationists since it closed in 1999. Its uncertain future triggered community residents to form the Mesa Preservation Foundation in 2010, with the Buckhorn’s preservation their No. 1 priority.
The Mesa City Council agreed to explore the purchase on Thursday. The city decided to explore taking up the cause because the Buckhorn’s preservation was the most popular idea to emerge from residents who participated in the iMesa initiative for community improvements.
The Buckhorn got 515 votes — more than twice as many as any other project, said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation. The site would be a popular destination not just because of the treasure of baseball memorabilia there, he said. The Buckhorn’s late owners amassed more than 400 preserved animals and a collection of Native American artifacts. The site has potential for recreation and events like weddings, he said.
“The community is saying we value this, this would be a good investment for the city to make,” Linoff said. “To lose it would be to lose a real treasure. It’s not just another historic home. It’s really unique on several levels.”
The city is researching the cost to buy the Buckhorn, said Marc Heirshberg, Mesa’s parks and recreation director. A fall bond would likely only fund the purchase. The city would later develop preservation and restoration plans on the site at the northwest corner of Main Street and Recker Road.
Ted and Alice Sliger opened the Buckhorn in 1939, going on to host the likes of Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. Ted died in 1985, followed by Alice in 2010 at the age of 103. Alice had the property for sale since it closed but never accepted offers.
The Buckhorn was named the most endangered commercial roadside place in the U.S. by the Society for Commercial Archeology. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Mesa plans to hold several community meetings in the next four to six weeks on the Buckhorn concept, as well as preliminary plans to improve about 10 parks across the city. The ideas include adding lighted ball fields at several parks, building a regional aquatics center at Mesa High School and revamping Pioneer Park. Also, the city is considering an urban plaza north of City Hall that would become a focal point for downtown festivals and events.
The city will develop specific plans and cost estimates in the next several weeks. The City Council will likely decide in June whether to call an election for park bonds.
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