Tempe has bought the Hayden Flour Mill, one of the city’s most historic landmarks, after a developer failed to meet a deadline to revitalize the property.
The city cut a check on Tuesday for about $11.8 million.
Now, Tempe officials must come up with a plan to develop the property while saving the aging mill.
“We’re back in the driver’s seat,” Mayor Neil Giuliano said Wednesday.
“At some point, we’ll be looking for private sector partners to work with.”
Developing the corner is difficult, even though it is seen as a key passageway between Mill Avenue and Tempe Town Lake. The mill is situated on rough, rocky land, and the city wants to preserve the original buildings, Giuliano said. “I wouldn’t support us wavering from that at all,” he said. “That’s both the wonderful uniqueness of the project and a challenge as well.”
Until this week, a division of the Tempe development company MCW Holdings owned the mill and hoped to create a mixed-use area of about 460,000 square feet. One plan called for condominiums in the mill’s silos. The company was involved in the Brickyard on Mill project, which developed an expensive mold problem during construction.
Deed restrictions on the Hayden Flour Mill land limited the amount of residential space developers could build on the property, said Patrick Flynn, a consultant for Tempe and former assistant city manager. That also was a problem for developers, because the hot properties now are largely residential, he said.
“It just didn’t happen,” Flynn said. “The developers, I know, surely tried to line up investors to jump-start that corner.”
A development agreement signed in 2001 by the city, MCW Holdings and a bank gave the developers until July 15 to cement a plan, or Tempe would buy the property and start over again on plans to develop it. It was a risk Tempe was willing to take because, in return, developers promised to save six acres of park land along Hayden Butte, Giuliano said.
“We went into this agreement with our eyes wide open,” he said. “We always knew it was a possibility, and, quite frankly, it’s a possibility that we’re willing to accept and one that our residents have supported.” Charles T. Hayden, one of Tempe’s pioneers, built an adobe mill at the site in 1874 that burned around 1890. A second mill, also made of adobe, burned in 1917.
The existing mill was built in 1918 and operated until 1997. A recent fire damaged much of the nearby grain warehouse, which was built in the 1920s.
The city will work to secure the mill, which has been the victim of graffiti in recent months, Flynn said. Giuliano said he hopes to have a better plan on what to do with the mill at the next City Council retreat, which will be Aug. 22 and 23.