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October 24,2023

Bisbee Community:

As I collect feedback from the community I will update this letter, so please check back in to stay up to date.  Thank you for reading. 

Whether you are a full / part time resident or a tourist you already know that Bisbee, AZ is a special place. The Old Bisbee High School (OBHS) is one of the iconic buildings among many gems in Warren and Old Bisbee. At 63,315 SF it is also one of the largest. In February of 2022 Cochise County (former owner) sent out a request for proposal (RFP) for a developer to purchase the property. The RFP was heavily promoted and in the public domain for six months. Two bid responses were submitted and ours was the only one that offered to purchase the building for the full appraised value. My belief is that the reason there were so few responses to the RFP is that restoration projects, especially of this scale, are next to impossible to budget for and in many ways include a Pandora’s Box of unknowns. 

Since purchasing the property in August of 2022 my architectural and engineering team, led by Poster Mirto McDonald, has been working on construction drawings to build one and two bedroom apartment units while paying special attention to the historic status of the building and aiming to preserve the character-defining features of both the exterior and interior.  This work requires an extensive team of engineers and specialists working in coordination to come up with a set of construction drawings that can be sent out to subcontractors by the general contractor (Durazo Construction) to obtain accurate construction costs.  Along the way the plans have evolved which is often the case when repurposing an historic building.

It would be logical to think that restoration of a building such as OBHS would cost less than new construction. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy. This is why developers of restoration repurposing projects such as the Benedictine Apartments in Tucson or the Hill Street School in Globe and others often count on new units to offset the cost of restoring an historic building. Obviously, this strategy would not work in Old Bisbee. Also working against all developers in today’s world are high inflation, interest rates and construction costs.  

Low income housing, such as what the City of Bisbee is attempting to do with the Hillcrest Apartments, require that the developer receive state tax credits.  These along with federal historic tax credits are very hard to obtain.  

At the end of the day any development project needs to make financial sense for both the developer and its lender to obtain the funds necessary to renovate.  Our current plans call for 42 dwelling units to be available for short and long term rental. These units consist of 15 apartments and 27 short term rentals. Please see floor plans. To move forward with this plan the property would need to be re-zoned to C3. If that process was to be successful a separate application would need to be approved by the Board of Adjustment to reduce the number of on-site parking spaces to 51. Current Bisbee CIty Code would require 109 parking spaces.  One space is required per dwelling unit (42 Spaces) and 1 additional space is required for every 200 SF of common area (67 Spaces = 13,433 SQ FT / 200). Please see footnotes.  Currently there are 147 hotel rooms in Old Bisbee of which there are 20 onsite parking spaces for. To see parking chart please follow this link. There are also approximately 190 B&B - vacation rentals, many of which do not have onsite parking. 

Bisbee's economy is primarily driven by tourism. This project has the potential to have a huge positive economic impact on our community.  However, I realize why the impact of strong employment, bed taxes, property taxes and retail spending are important to sum, I also understand why it might not make much of a difference to others.  I know that change is difficult; especially in Old Bisbee. I am also well aware that I am not going to change the minds of anyone who does not like the idea of repurposing the OBHS, except as a use that they personally like. With that said if you are an independent thinker please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments or general thoughts you may have.  

Learn more about the specifics of this planned redevelopment project.  Please also consider signing our petition of support this project and with your help we can continue to work towards repurposing the iconic OBHS building into something special that lovers of Bisbee can all be proud of.  

 Joseph Lewis
Old Bisbee High School, LLC

Note: The OBHS building has more than double the common area square footage of a typical apartment or hotel property because of the wide corders, originally designed for students.


[1] City of Bisbee Zoning Code Adopted June 8, 1998 Ordinance 0-98-13 - Updated September 28, 2023
Article 8 Parking and Loading
Section 8.1.3 Hotels, Motels, and Boarding Houses
“One (1) parking space for each (1) guest room or dwelling unit.  One (1) additional parking space for each two hundred square feet of actual usable service area, including basements and attics. “

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