Thursday, May 1, 2014

Needles to cut the ribbon on renovated El Garces depot and Harvey House

The El Garces intermodal transportation facility project is complete and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 11 a.m. The historic El Garces building was formerly the site of a railroad station and Harvey House hotel. The hotel and restaurant closed in 1949 and it was closed as a railroad station in 1988. (JENNIFER DENEVAN/NewsWest)

By Jennifer Denevan
Mohave Valley Daily News

NEEDLES — A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. to celebrate the completion of the El Garces intermodal transportation facility renovation project, a long-term venture that has taken several attempts to finish.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will include several speakers. Tours of the downstairs portion of the building will be given.

A farmers’ market is part of the events for the day. The market will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature live music by Antiquated Systems.

An antique car cruise is also planned. The cruise is noncompetitive and a chance for residents and visitors to view classic cars.

The Taste of Needles is included. BPO Elks Lodge 1608 will serve coffee and breakfast burritos in the morning and then serve barbecue sandwiches and loaded baked potatoes in the afternoon.

The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe will be selling fry bread as part of the Taste of Needles. The Wagon Wheel Restaurant will be selling hamburgers and hot dogs.

Tribal members will be selling jewelry outside the El Garces as a reminder of the past. The tribe will also have a special historic presentation along with having artifacts on display.

The Needles Chamber of Commerce is holding an open house from 9 a.m. until noon. Everyone is invited to come and see the remodeled building and to see what the chamber has in store for the coming months. There will be giveaways and other prizes.

The Friends of the Needles Centennial will provide refreshments prepared by the Needles High School culinary arts class.

As the El Garces project neared completion, council members and members of the community decided it was important to have something to signify the renovation being finished. A ribbon cutting finally was planned.

It has taken about two years for the project to be completed, using funds from the Federal Transit Administration, which totaled nearly $5 million. The project itself has been going longer than that.

Two years ago, council members chose to adhere to advice given to them by Allan Affeldt of El Garces, LLC. He advised the council to use the grant money or risk losing it.

In the months prior to his advice, the city and Affeldt were trying to get a joint development agreement approved by the FTA. The JDA would allow the title of the El Garces to be transferred from the city to Affeldt, which in turn would have allowed him to get financing for a commercial element of the project. The plan at that time was to have an intermodal transportation facility but also to put in a restaurant and hotel that El Garces LLC would add. The goal was to make the El Garces similar to Winslow, Ariz.’s La Posada Hotel, which was renovated by Affeldt.

The approval for the JDA was never given and Affeldt said he felt the city was running the risk of losing funds for the intermodal transportation facility. The project shifted gears to simply using the funds so the building could be used. Any retail portion will come later.

Linda Kidd, city council member, said once the city decided to move forward with the project, the focus became getting the building enclosed by getting doors and windows on so it wouldn’t deteriorate further.

Kidd said it was a long two years to get this portion of the project complete. Once the city made the decision to use the funds, the El Garces committee was formed, consisting of Kidd, council members Jim Lopez and Tony Frazier, city staff and eventually the construction management company, Kinny Construction.

There were unforeseen setbacks along the way. The city found ways to fund lead paint removal and the removal of a large kerosene tank that was found as plumbing and electric were being put in the building.

Those sidebars could have been detrimental, Kidd said. Fortunately, the city found a way to take care of them and still complete the project.

The project includes putting infrastructure in so as the city attracts businesses they can move into the El Garces, Kidd said. In the meantime, the downstairs portion of the building is complete and is available for income for the city now, she continued.

She said economic development consultant Michael Bracken and the management broker can look to fill the El Garces. The city is in the process of finding a broker who can lease out office spaces in the building.

As a business owner, Jan Jernigan said she is happy to see the city rejuvenated with a nice looking building. She said she feels it will also be an asset to reviving the downtown area, she added.