The courtroom in Sonoita has sat empty since the Court was shut in January 2019. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

It has been over a year and a half since the gavel fell for the last time at Eastern Santa Cruz County Justice Court in Sonoita. The building is now a storage facility for excess county equipment, a few county offices, and our beloved library. 

Now is the time to take our loss and turn it into a win by collecting our ideas to re-purpose the 6400 sq. ft. facility, support our community, and engage the County leadership to partner with us in the endeavor. 

Last year, my husband George and I were enjoying a glass of wine on the patio and we brainstormed some ideas to utilize the facility in the heart of 

Sonoita. Here’s what we came up with: 

A VISITORS CENTER: 

The beauty of this area attracts cyclists, hikers, birders, hunters, and numerous tourists visiting wine country and enjoying our fabulous scenery and weather. A central facility with information on events throughout Elgin, Sonoita, Patagonia, and including the lakes and Empire Ranch would benefit our fairgrounds, restaurants, bed and breakfast facilities, markets and other community assets, and improve our economy. Encouraging our tourists visiting wine country and other events could bring them back to the area for host of other activities. 

A COMMUNITY RESOURCE CENTER: 

The courtroom could be useful for training, meeting space, tax assistance resources, health and wellness information, flu shots, and general information and uses of interest to the community. 

A PERMANENT FARMER’S MARKET: 

An indoor market would be viable year-round and the structure could provide electricity to support a wider scope of vendors. Having the market open on Saturday would encourage tourists visiting the wineries or other attractions to stop in and buy a snack, homemade bread, or local crafts. The market would also provide our youth in 4H or FFA with a chance to raise funds by selling homemade jams or other canned goods and fresh produce. I can visualize a super hand painted sign on the building front compliments of our talented artists in the community! 

AN OUTDOOR PARK AND FISHING HOLE: 

The outdoor area surrounding the building could be cleaned up and park benches and picnic tables added providing a place to enjoy a snack from the farmer’s market. The small pond could be stocked with fish to provide a place for smaller children to cast a rod, provided this does not interfere with other uses. 

LIBRARY AND COUNTY OFFICES REMAIN:

Mt. Empire Rotary Club has offered to assist with administering the grants to cover the cost of infrastructure modifications. The Department of Corrections (DOC) workers could build the Farmer’s Market booths and tables, spruce up the grounds, and lay on a new coat of paint. Former Judge Keith Barth has volunteered to coordinate the DOC program labor. The county currently covers insurance and utility costs and could perhaps provide additional funds for upkeep and repairs. The library is in place and funded through the City of Nogales. 

Other stakeholders could include the Fairgrounds, Sonoita-Elgin Community Group (SECG), wineries and distilleries, local businesses, the town of Patagonia, Sky Island Tourism Association, Arizona Tourism and Wine Commission, Empire Ranch, parks and recreational establishments, local artists, and many more! 

George and I hoped to present these ideas and seek community input at our next town hall; however, COVID 19 has precluded our ability to meet in large numbers, but we can’t let that stop us from moving forward. We want to hear what you have say, refine the concept, identify volunteers, and coordinate with the county. Let’s turn our loss into a win! 

To help us identify the best uses for this space, we ask that you fill out a short survey, which you can access at https://forms.gle/GLbgmx3tBfYRi82o6. Please share your ideas, comments, concerns and volunteer for the way ahead.