In late 2017, the City of Nogales agreed to buy the former Chase bank building, a 9,800-square-foot space adjacent to the Nogales Fire Department, for $550,000.
When the long-rumored purchase was finalized on Sept. 13, 2017, city leaders were noncommittal on plans for the new space, saying that a number of options were under consideration.
At the time, Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. and then-City Manager Carlos Rivera both mentioned the possibility of moving the city court into the building, freeing up more room for the police department on the first floor of the current City Hall building. However, Rivera cautioned that there were “no concrete plans” yet.
In March 2018, a more concrete proposal emerged to move the mayor and council to the annex. But now, after two years and more than $10,000 spent on design services, the planning process is back to square one.
“I told our architect to put the brakes on what he’s doing,” Interim City Manager John Kissinger told the mayor and council at their Sept. 10 meeting.
“We’re backtracking,” Varona complained, asserting that the council had already decided to go ahead with plans to put the council chambers in the Chase building.
But Mayor Arturo Garino made it clear that he didn’t want to move the council chambers after all.
“To me, this is City Hall,” he said, gesturing at the council dais. “Not that building.”
“Are we making another City Hall?” he asked aloud. “Because where the council goes, that’s where City Hall’s at.”
The mayor, whose office would have been relocated to the Chase building along with the council chambers, ended bluntly: “I’m not going into that building.”
Kissinger said during the meeting that he had brought City Magistrate Vanessa Cartwright to look at the building, suggesting that the plan is now back to using the site to house the city court.
In early 2018, the city hired Michelle Class, owner of the Create Your Space design company, to start working on a plan for the building, which the council started referring to as the “City Hall Annex.”
Class sketched out a plan that included cubicles, but would not have put the council chambers in the building.
The city council, including then-Mayor John Doyle, saw a copy of those plans at a March 7, 2018 meeting. But at that meeting, councilmembers said they had already changed their minds and wanted to put the city council chambers in the new space.
Later in 2018, Class started working on a new design that incorporated the council chambers, along with seating for the public and a private conference room for the council to meet in executive session.
The new plans also included room for some financial services and featured a drive-through payment window.
That plan was presented to the new city council, including current Mayor Arturo Garino, in February 2019.
The council saw the plans again, with minor changes to the location of the bathrooms and the drive-through window, in March.
So far, the city has paid Class a total of $6,525.
At the March meeting, councilmembers started to get frustrated, questioning why tweaks were still being made to the layout.
“We previously had a study session on this and that never came up,” Councilman Robert Rojas said of the changes made since the previous month, adding: “This is like going backwards.”
“We’re spinning our wheels now,” he said. “We’re talking about the same thing over and over and over again and we’re just wasting time.”
The mayor and council ultimately told Kissinger to return to the previous plans, without moving the bathroom or drive-through window, and to present cost estimates to the council by May.
Following the council’s direction, Kissinger started to move forward with plans to put new city council chambers in the building, hiring the Tucson firm Indevco to begin architectural designs for the space.
The city paid Indevco $4,353 for design services in August.
But by the time of last week’s council meeting, that plan had evidently been scrapped.
Garino told the NI this week that he and the council revisited plans for the building at an August retreat, including reconsidering the possibility of moving the city court.
He said he had “never approved or supported (moving) the council over there,” adding that he favored relocating the court and potentially the city’s finance department to the annex.
Although the city’s 2019-2020 budget includes $2.55 million for equipment and remodeling at the site, the council is far from a consensus on how to proceed.
“Every single member of the city council has a different idea of what that building should be,” Garino said.
And the Sept. 10 meeting ended with city staff saying more or less the same thing they said two years ago: all options are on the table.
“I heard from one council (member) that the second floor should be used for a conference area, so that we could have meetings. I’ve heard about having planning and zoning over there, the fire marshal’s office over there. Man, I’ve heard everything,” Garino told the NI. “So, it’s not a done deal right now.”