Op-Ed: City Must Review Historic Preservation Policies

Mayor Greg Stanton[Source: Greg Stanton, Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona Republic, January 4, 2012] – To be a successful and competitive city, we cannot ignore our past accomplishments. We must value our past and build on it. This principle is true in business, government, and culture, especially preservation of our architectural heritage. Our architectural history is a necessary part of Phoenix’s future economic development, but our record is mixed, some successes and some disappointments. It is time for Phoenix to revisit and improve its policy on historic preservation.

Countless studies have demonstrated that historic preservation is an economic engine. It costs less to reuse old buildings than to construct new ones. A recent analysis that examined Phoenix and other cities also showed conclusively that reusing old buildings is in almost every case environmentally sounder than new construction. Preserving old buildings creates a sense of place that is key to attracting and keeping talented employees and creative businesses. On every level, historic preservation significantly benefits a community.

Phoenix recently dodged a historic preservation bullet. One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most significant buildings – the David and Gladys Wright House – was threatened with demolition. For months, many volunteers worked to save the building.

These are the unsung heroes who labored behind the scenes to save the house: an anonymous donor to whom we all are grateful, Larry Woodin and Janet Halstead of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, Grady Gammage Jr., Will Bruder, Taz Loomans, Jim McPherson, Scott and Debbie Jarson, Alison King, Frank Henry, Roger Brevoort, Christina Noble, Colin Slais, Jennifer Boucek, Michelle Dodds of the Phoenix Office of Historic Preservation, Robert Joffe, and many others too numerous to list.

Preservation of the David Wright House is a victory for Phoenix, our state, and even globally. The effort has taught a sobering lesson: Phoenix’s approach to historic preservation, which has served us well for three decades, is not always adequate to accomplish our goals. We need to build on our past and improve our approach. Phoenix is maturing as a city, so we have an increasing number of historically significant buildings. Our current historic preservation tools sometimes are not up to the task.

It is time to begin a community conversation to reevaluate our priorities, policies, and procedures so we can be more effective in historic preservation and at the same time respect private property rights.

Phoenix has a proud history of building consensus through compromise. With thoughtful and respectful discussion, we can develop new policies that are right for Phoenix.

Beginning in the new year, I will assemble a team of skilled people to begin tackling this problem in an open process that will involve the entire community. With improved historic preservation policies, Phoenix’s best days are ahead.

Posted on January 4, 2013, in Architecture, Downtown Vitality, Historic Preservation, History, Neighborhoods, Real Estate, Tourism, Urban Vitality. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Sal DiCiccio, City Councilman, District 6: Below is a letter I sent to the Mayor and City Manager in December. I believe he will find a unified council that will move forward with a real historic preservation plan. We should have a set deadline that will set specific goals, timelines and of course funding. The city budget will tell you how serious Phoenix is in making this a significant and deserving issue. Thank you Mayor Stanton for moving forward on this and for demanding a specific plan of action. Letter to Mayor Stanton and City Manager David Cavazos:

    To: Mayor Greg Stanton, City Manager David Cavazos
    From: Councilman Sal DiCiccio
    Re: Wright House long term preservation
    Date: Dec. 21, 2012

    Councilwoman Thelda Williams and I have been in constant contact with the new owner’s representative since the start of escrow on this iconic property. We have presented the idea of a long-term preservation plan and found them very open to the concept. The owner’s main goal is to preserve the property, and according to their representatives, they are looking to invest additional millions of dollars more to bring the property up to the original historic condition it deserves.

    I strongly urge you to make immediate contact with them to begin the discussions and the process of a long-term preservation plan lasting 30 years or more. Putting in place a long-term preservation plan does two things: One, it provides a long-term fix so the threat of demolition does not happen every three years, and two, it provides a working framework for future properties the city feels to be historic. Also, it will show Phoenix was serious about protecting the property and was not just looking for a short term solution that provided nothing more than a media frenzy.

    Additionally, I am requesting the city immediately identify other Frank Lloyd Wright properties within our city boundaries and begin a process to determine which properties should also be approached with a long-term plan. It is my understanding that there are approximately five other properties in Phoenix. Please see link http://savewright.org/index.php?t=news_focus&story_id=94. These properties will need to be verified. This needs to be done quickly and surely.

    Again, it is important we make contact immediately with the new owners of the home, and we begin immediately the identification of other properties and a process of cooperation with those owners to preserve their properties long term. Please provide me a list of the properties and a plan of how and when they will be approached.

    Thank you.

    Sal DiCiccio
    Phoenix City Council District 6

    SAVE WRIGHT: http://www.savewright.org

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