Mesa is studying whether an old post office building can become the site of a third museum in the downtown area.
The city is considering how to use the old federal building at 26 N. Macdonald, which for several years has been used to store library books and museum artifacts. A $25,000 study will determine what the building could be used for and how much it would cost to update the building.
The building would be a likely new home for the Mesa Historical Museum, which is running out of money to operate in the old Lehi School that it owns.
That museum has been looking to move to a more visible location for years, said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Historical Society’s board of directors.
“I think it’s been a given that if the museum is going to move into the downtown, that this would be the right home for it,” Linoff said. “Now we’re going to see if that’s really the case.”
To study the possibility, the city will gather officials from the historical society and the existing downtown Arizona Museum for Youth and Arizona Museum of Natural History. They’ll discuss their individual and collective needs for space in downtown.
The city also must find out if the building can be reconfigured to hold exhibits. One part of the building opened in 1936, and a 1960 addition was constructed at a slightly different level, which could limit the structure’s use. Numerous interior office walls have made the building a rabbit’s warren, Linoff said, and it’s not clear what can be removed to open up the 12,100-square-foot area.
“Can you create enough open space for a gallery?” Linoff said. “Some assumptions have been made but nobody is sure.”
The federal government gave the building to the city in 2002, after the city promised to use it for a public amenity like a museum. A 2005 study found it needs about $1.25 million in renovations, but the study will review the needs and update costs.
The study will take six to nine months to complete, said Kari Kent, a deputy city manager.
If the city decided a museum will work in the building, it would likely take years for one to open. The city would probably pay for renovations with a voter-approved bond, and city officials said an election is likely two or more years away because of the poor economy.
The historical museum expects that a new downtown home would improve its visibility, attendance and revenue. It plans to severely limit when it is open to the public to save money but hopes to strike a deal with the city to use the federal building and eventually resume daily access.
The downtown location would also increase Mesa’s cultural scene, said Linoff, by having three museums and an arts center in one locale.
“There’s no other place in the Valley like that,” he said.