TWENTYNINE PALMS — Ten years of waiting and planning, and fighting Sacramento for the release of funds, came to an end Thursday, Jan. 16, when ground was broken on the first phase of work on Project Phoenix.
The downtown redevelopment project, set to cost $21 million, was kicked off with speeches, cake and the ceremonial turning of the first shovelful of dirt on Twentynine Palms Highway and Yucca Avenue.
When Project Phoenix is complete that space will have been transformed into a paseo, an open space pocket park similar to Bucklin Park, leading from the highway to the city’s new community center and the new Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center.
The multi-year project will begin with work on sewage lines, leading from downtown businesses to a package treatment plant, and the undergrounding of utility lines.
The second year will see construction of the community center with the national park visitor and cultural center due to go up in year three.
“I think this is a long time coming and I am so pleased that it is finally starting,” council member Dan Mintz said before the ceremony.
He noted that a local contractor, Van Dyke plumbing, will be used for the project.
Park Superintendent David Smith noted that when the cultural center is open a huge collection of artifacts, The Campbell Collection, will finally have a place where it can be viewed by the public.
The collection, he said, documents 10,000 years of human occupation of what is now known as Twentynine Palms.
“I think it’s exciting for the community,” local business person Mary Jane Binge said.
In her invocation, Pastor LeeAnn Clarke of the 29 Palms Ministerial Association spoke of the years of struggle as city officials fought with Sacramento politicians over funds raised for the redevelopment project.
“No weapon that was formed against us prospered,” she said.
“Wow, we did it, finally, the Project Phoenix groundbreaking,” Mayor Joel Klink said during the brief ceremony.
“There were obstacles along the way,” he said, referring to the state’s order to cities to dissolve redevelopment agencies followed by the state’s attempt to commandeer millions in bond proceeds that had been tabbed for the redevelopment project.
He thanked Assemblyman Chad Mayes, who was able to secure $6 million in state funding to make up for money lost during the legal battle with Sacramento.
He also made note of $2 million, which will be used to build the national park cultural and visitor center, through passage of Proposition 68.
“Today is the beginning of the construction journey,” he said, hoping that the project would attract aspiring entrepreneurs to create new businesses in downtown Twentynine Palms.
“I appreciate all the hard work that has gone into this,” Brig. Gen. Roger Turner, commanding general of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center said. He congratulated the city for “finally getting this across the goal line.”
“It is an honor to be here in an ever changing capacity,” Dawn Rowe, who has been ordered to step down from her spot as an appointed member of the county board of supervisors following complaints about the selection process, said.
She also joked about the effect of millions of park visitors on the quality of life in Yucca Valley while cautioning Twentynine Palms to be careful what it wishes for.
“We are a little over loved on the west end,” she said, adding that Yucca Valley will be glad to share some of that love.
“This is a totally exciting day, I never thought it would happen,” Smith said during his brief remarks.
The park cultural center, he noted, will serve the three million visitors the park attracts every year. Because of a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and local Native American tribes, the center will also provide information about public lands and indigenous cultures throughout the region.
“So we can tell their story,” he said.
“I am committed to this process. I am committed to this town. I am committed to creating the best visitor center possible.”