With Mill Avenue slowly rebounding from near-ghost-town status, it’s no secret that land will always be valuable between University Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. However, one prime piece of real estate has sat untouched, undeveloped and untended for more than a decade. Now the City of Tempe has the rights to the Hayden Flour Mill, and big plans are transforming this icon into the area’s great white hope.
Since the mill closed in 1998, it has sat on its namesake avenue as a weathered reminder of Tempe’s history. In 2001, Tempe’s MCW Holdings purchased the property in an effort to turn the 140-year-old historic site into upscale lofts. But the idea flopped. After the Tempe company went bankrupt, Phoenix-based Avenue Communities planned to turn the building into retail and office space. Those efforts eventually lost steam as well.
This left Tempe residents and Mill Avenue habitués with mere rumors of development and their own speculations on what the mill should become. C. Yisrael, co-owner of My Sister and Me florist on Mill Avenue, says the mill is currently a missed opportunity. “My partner and I were just wondering, ‘What is that eyesore?’” she says. “I like the oldness of it, but it should be painted and restored and opened up for tours.”
Now, a new rejuvenation project, headed by the Rio Salado Foundation, has given mill-lovers hope. Hugh Hallman, mayor of Tempe and president of the Rio Salado Foundation, says donations are key for this project. “The project will be fully funded by the Rio Salado Foundation since the city doesn’t have the resources to clean and maintain the property,” he explains. “What we accomplish is dependent on how much the foundation can raise.”
So far, the plan is to install security lighting and to clean, repaint and landscape the property with indigenous plants that will blend Hayden Butte with the mill, Monti’s La Casa Vieja and Tempe Town Lake to make the historic area more cohesive. The foundation also intends to create a lawn area for small events such as concerts, outdoor movies and farmers’ markets, meant to activate the space if retail opportunities present themselves for inside the mill. The improvements are slated for end-of-the-year completion.
Hallman says his ideal Hayden Flour Mill transformation would combine a bakery or restaurant with the building’s remaining historic equipment to form a “living museum,” drawing tourists and locals alike.
When Charles Hayden first crossed Rio Salado with a wagon full of goods, he noticed the river’s potential for power. That, plus the nearby Pima- and Maricopa-grown grain, gave Hayden reason to build a mill. From there, people settled around Rio Salado and the neighboring mill, and Tempe was born.
“It’s difficult to maintain the culture of our community without restoring the mill,” Hallman says. “It’s the longest continuously operated commercial property in Tempe.”
The area outside the mill will be in use within the next year, according to city officials, but it will take several years before the interior is transformed into retail, dining or historic space. Still, any rejuvenation could add value for the city. “It could potentially bring business to other businesses on Mill,” Yisrael says. “Just having something different in the area, other than bars or restaurants, would bring people here.”
To see the mill’s progress or donate to its development, visit supportriosalado.org.
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