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Cash-short Arizona makes do with modest centennial

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks during a ceremony for the new Centennial Way to celebrate the upcoming Arizona centennial in 2012, Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks during a ceremony for the new Centennial Way to celebrate the upcoming Arizona centennial in 2012, Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Initial dreams for the 2012 Arizona centennial included talk of a new state Capitol. Years later, the reality of a recession has the Grand Canyon state embarking on a relatively austere marking of its 100th birthday.

The Capitol project, an idea hatched in 2004, had a cost estimate of $14 million just for design and planning. Now, amid a continuing budget crisis that has seen the state cut funding for core services such as education and health care, a federally funded street renovation project is a “signature event” for a centennial that will make do.

With no state appropriation available, “we are scraping by,” acknowledged Karen Churchard, executive director of the state Centennial Commission.

Private fundraising is expected to cover most of the centennial’s projected $30 million of costs, with roughly $3 million raised so far in cash and pledges from private sources, she said.

Organizers are hitting up corporations for donations, and students in schools across the state are collecting pennies to pay for cleaning the historic Old Capitol’s copper dome in time for the 100-year anniversary on Feb. 14, 2012.

“Corporate Arizona has been very kind to us, as well as many individuals who understand the historical significance of this event,” said Charles Jones, a retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justice who is co-chairman of the Centennial Commission.

Jones and commission co-chairwoman, Gov. Jan Brewer, on Tuesday participated in a kickoff event for the Centennial Way.

A $5 million federal transportation grant is paying for that project that by the end of the year will re-dress a 1.5-mile stretch of Washington Street with decorative sidewalks, shade structures, bike lanes and landscaping. Elements of the streetscape project will pay tribute to Arizona’s 15 counties and its 22 Indian tribes.

“Centennial Way will be a noteworthy thoroughfare leading to our state Capitol from downtown Phoenix,” Brewer said. “This is a legacy that Arizona will be proud of.”

The centennial’s other big-ticket projects include a $15.75 million museum and a $3 million trio of “Best Fest” festivals in Phoenix, Prescott and Tucson.

“Those were all selected because they were territorial capitals, so they have a nice tie back to our history,” Churchard said.

Unlike most state Capitols, Arizona’s complex consists of a nine-story office building, separate boxy three-story legislative buildings for the House and Senate, and the Old Capitol from territorial days that houses a museum.

It was the late Jake Flake, then the Arizona House speaker, who in 2004 publicly proposed building a new state Capitol complex in time for the 2012 centennial.

“We’ve got kind of a dismal Capitol compared to those (states) around us,” Flake said, according to an East Valley Tribune story at the time. “I think we deserve better than this. What better time to do this than in our centennial year?”

But that was in 2004, when the state was in relatively prosperous times economically.

Arizona became the 48th state on Feb. 14, 1912, when President William Howard Taft signed statehood legislation.

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