The Cochise County Development Services Department recommended demolishing two buildings on the Miracle Valley Bible College campus due to their poor condition and presence of asbestos in order to prepare the property for auction, as discussed during a work session Tuesday. The property was deeded to the state and entrusted to the county in March of 2022 after the previous property owner failed to pay more than $500,000 in property taxes.
Arizona’s State Historic Preservation Office or SHPO, has said the property is eligible for listing in the National and Arizona Registers of Historic Places in a letter to the county. Daniel Coxworth, Cochise County Development Services Director, said Tuesday that the property potentially qualifies a historic district.
"The determination about the eligibility from SHPO is not limited to the Tabernacle," said Coxworth. "It is for all the structures on the property ... It does not compel the county to list it. The choice to designate it is completely up to the county."
Coxworth made the recommendation during Tuesday's work session that the board consider removing the boys and girls dormitory buildings prior to putting the property up for auction. He said the boys dormitory has extensive fire damage and both dorms have asbestos. Coxworth said the choice as to whether or not those buildings remain on the property is up to the board. After hearing several requests from the public to not demolish any buildings from the property, Board Chair Peggy Judd said she’d prefer the county to sell the property as it is.
A point of contention centered on whether or not the SHPO designation prevents the county from demolishing any structures, or doing other actions to prepare the property for auction. Arizona State Historic Preservation Officer Kathryn Leonard told AZPM in an email Tuesday that the county still retains authority on how they prepare the 37-and-a-half acre property for auction.
"The ultimate disposition of the property is a matter for the County to decide," said Leonard in an email. "They have consulted with our office on its Register-eligibility and have satisfied state statute in that regard."
That state statute, A.R.S. 11-268, states that "Before the removal of a dilapidated building the board of supervisors shall consult with the state historic preservation officer to determine if the building is of historical value."
"I think there's been a real general misconception about the property where people think that the property is owned by the county, the county has all of these options that they can do with it," said Cochise County Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney Christine Roberts said during Tuesday's work session. "Because that property was deeded to the state, the county holds it in trust right now for the state. And under that statute (A.R.S. Section 42-18303), we are required to put it up for auction to the highest bidder."
Supervisor Ann English asked Roberts if the county is on the hook to preserve and prevent further deterioration of the property prior to auction due to the SHPO designation.
"We can't go in and do anything — you know — we shouldn't go and do anything further to take away from it," responded Roberts. "But we don't have to go to any extraordinary efforts to do any extra preservation of the property either."
The property was originally owned by pentecostal evangelist Asa. A. Allen. There, Allen created a hub for the expansion of the Christian "Healing" Revival Movement in the late 1950s and 1960s. Since Allen’s death in 1970, the property has changed ownership several times.
"The tax lien was available for purchase for seven years," said Coxworth. He said no one tried to purchase that tax lien.
"Because that did not happen, therefore, it was deeded to the state under the care of the board of supervisors," Coxworth continued. "Who ever the highest bidder is at auction will be awarded the property ... As I understand it, it will be included in the auction with all the other state properties for sale."
He said the clerk of the board will determine if the property goes to auction this summer.