Pima County’s partnership with a nonprofit organization has transformed the historic train depot in Ajo into the Ajo Visitor’s Center and Chamber of Commerce office.
Pima County supplemented a $500,000 Arizona Department of Transportation grant with $150,000 in bond funds approved by voters in 2004 to complete the project.
The Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission bestowed its Historic Preservation Award on the project this year “for the sensitive, masterful restoration of this historically significant building for adaptive reuse.”
“The residents of Ajo are committed to keeping their community thriving, and the County’s investment is aimed at boosting tourism and Ajo’s economic base,” District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. “Strengthening Ajo strengthens the County.”
The historic Ajo Train Depot was used by the Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad for many years following its construction in 1916. When the mine near Ajo closed in the 1980s, the Depot and many other historic buildings in Ajo were vacated.
The historic Ajo Townsite, including the Depot building, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, making it eligible for various grants, and the nonprofit International Sonoran Desert Alliance purchased the building in 2008 to rehabilitate it for the town’s visitor center and Chamber of Commerce. Both of these functions serve the local community by stimulating tourism, and by attracting and maintaining businesses in Ajo.
Although operational, the building was in poor repair and in need of mechanical and system upgrades, as well as restoration of its architectural details and interior space.
A very tight budget meant that County staff, project architects, and the general contractor had to be extremely creative in dealing with issues and problems. Most of the work focused on the interior to bring it up to code and to provide workable spaces for the tenants.
The Depot now welcomes residents and visitors to Ajo with information about area attractions and boasts several new offices, meeting spaces, a gift shop, and outdoor roofed space in the newly restored, former passenger waiting area.