Randolph could receive state or national historic designation

COOLIDGE — The Randolph Working Group, Salt River Project and Pinal County officials met Friday in the Coolidge Council Chambers to discuss steps to aid the community in achieving historical designation for Randolph at the state or national level.

The three groups have been meeting monthly for around four months to discuss improvements for the unincorporated community near the SRP Coolidge Generating Station — from partnering with the county on road and other infrastructure repairs to SRP-funded scholarships and job training sponsorships and now most recently, aiding an effort to historically designate Randolph.

The working group and officials are still meeting to discuss these mitigation efforts despite SRP receiving a second rejection from the Arizona Corporation Commission to expand their Coolidge Generation Station by 16 turbines, which Randolph residents largely opposed.

It is not unusual for SRP to offer these benefits to any of the communities where its plants and projects are based — and regardless of whether the expansion went forward, there are still 12 active natural gas turbines a little less than 2 miles away from the community.

At Friday’s meeting, SRP brought in Dan Garcia, its senior cultural resource management specialist, and Jennifer Levstik, architectural historian with WestLand Resources — an environmental and engineering firm based in Arizona.

The energy company brought in the two archeological experts to aid the Randolph Working Group in the process of historical designation.

Levstik will be leading the project. She has an extensive background in achieving these designations for other historical sites in Arizona, including: a state designation for Paul Laurence Dunbar School in Tucson; Camp Naco (Naco, Ariz.); and Mountain View Black Officers’ Club (Fort Huachuca). Currently, she is trying to receive national historic landmark status for Barrio Viejo in Tucson as well.

“I’ve been doing historic preservation work for about 25 years now,” she said, “and I am really, really passionate about what I do.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity to be able to work with everybody and collaborate on this project together.”

Based on experience, she warned the Working Group that achieving designation is usually a lengthy process of evaluation, determination and bureaucratic operations. Because each agency they will have to go through has a minimum of 30 days between each decision, it’s a lot of sitting around and waiting.

They were also forewarned that because of encroaching industries, the portion of the district of Randolph that can be included in the designation is likely more narrow than they may have originally perceived.

However, there are several economic incentives for the community as a result of going through the process.

At this time, what they are seeking is to enter Randolph into the National Register of Historic Places. Community, building, district or other eligibility for this designation is contingent on two categories: significance and integrity.

Significance is assessed by four different criteria, and Levstik believes Randolph could fall under two out of those four. The first is the community’s patterns of history, or historic significance, and the second is assessment of the architectural history and its importance to the region or people of the town.

Typically any site seeking historic designation needs to be older than 50 years, which Randolph greatly exceeds in its length of establishment. It was founded by Black migrant farmworkers in the early 1920s during the Great Migration of African Americans. When the founders of Randolph came into the region, they were not allowed to reside in Coolidge due to their race, and it has existed as an unincorporated town ever since.

When evaluating a community for historical designation based on its integrity, there are seven qualifiers: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

“We evaluate each of these properties based on these seven aspects,” said Levstik. “So, ‘is it in its original location?’; ‘what are the design elements — do you see those design elements repeated elsewhere in the neighborhood?’”

In regards to workmanship, they are not looking for “fancy high-end architectural styles, but are there sort of patterns where we see a very specific kind of material being used, repeated throughout the community?”

The “feeling” criterion, she said, is a little bit harder to explain.

“Sort of the best way that I can kind of describe it, is that if you’re looking at something, does it read of a historic property?” she said. “So, for example, let’s say, you know, you’re in a mining community, and there’s an old mining smelter there.”

If Levstik and the community of Randolph are successful in seeking this designation, there is a lengthy list of incentives that will follow.

Those incentives, among several others include:

  • Job generation
  • Resistance against economic downturn
  • Tourism
  • Revitalization of older sections of town
  • Increased and stabilized property values
  • Tax incentives
  • Increased tax revenues
  • Connection to and preservation of the community’s past

In Arizona, any property within the boundaries of the historical designation receives 40% off of property taxes for 15 years.

However, there are some caveats. If an owner within the designation ever wished to modernize the structure, it could no longer be considered historic and the property tax reduction would be rendered null.

Additionally, if the whole town slowly wanted to modernize, to the point of renovating more than 50% of the properties within the historical boundaries, then the designation would entirely be revoked and all benefits would cease.

Coolidge City Manager Rick Miller, who is also part of the Working Group, asked Levstik how the community could put in a historic street marker for the town once it has achieved designation. Levstik said that would come down to the municipality, county or Arizona Department of Transportation.

In case Levstik and the community are unable to achieve entry into the NHRP, they can try to receive incentives through programs such as the Brownfield Program, Main Street Program — which she recommends first for the community — U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants or Arizona Heritage Fund Grants. However, the latter was virtually defunded for decades, until just recently, when the state reinstated the program.

“One of the things that has been happening lately” surrounding processes such as this, she said, “is that there is a concern, especially amongst minority neighborhoods, that if you do historic preservation, you’re leading to gentrification, and that you’re going to push out the, you know, original community.

“And in fact, that is, from my opinion, actually not true. Because, what it’s doing is — in the state of Arizona, because we’re providing property tax deductions — the idea is to keep the community intact and keep people in their home so that a developer doesn’t come in, throw a bunch of money at you for your property, when in fact, your property is actually much more valuable now that it is a historic property.”

However, industrial crowding has already pushed out a large portion of the original Randolph demographic. Many parents and grandparents remain within the community, but their children have relocated at the first chance in response to worsening air and aesthetic quality. Population data over time in Randolph is not included in the U.S. Census, but it is well known amongst the community.

As Levstik acknowledged, Randolph is now an anomaly in Arizona — with the last historic Black farming community, McNary, dispersing in 1979 after a lumber mill fire wiped out the local job market and economy.

“So, you know, this is a really unique opportunity to preserve a really important piece of Arizona’s history,” said Levstik.

Next steps for the Working Group toward designation will be to appoint a community liaison for discussions with Levstik, WestLand Resources and the residents on what should be archived; what are the historic buildings in town; and other crucial preservation information.

As they wrapped up their discussion, Randolph resident Melvin Moore asked Levstik how likely Randolph is to receive the designation.

Levstik said, “Yeah, to be perfectly frank, there’s going to be some challenges because there has been new construction put in; some of the mobile homes — or actually some of those may be over 50 years of age. Those are some of the challenges that we have.”

“But, yeah — I think there’s a case — the State Historic Preservation Office expressed interest in this community and is very encouraging about designation for it, so I think that’s a really great sign.”

Source Pinal Central