Downtown Voices statement on Madison Square Garden

Dear Mayor Gordon:

Please find enclosed an information packet on the Madison Square Garden including our architect’s rendering showing the feasibility of incorporating the Garden into existing plans.

Downtown Voices Coalition first became aware of the proposed demolition of the Garden several weeks ago when re-zoning signs were posted at the site announcing upcoming hearings.  After attending a Central City Village Planning Committee meeting, where our concerns were voiced and agreed upon by the committee, we met several times with the project developer, Jule Dionne, to find a way for the Garden to be incorporated into existing plans.  We also met with Mr. Dionne’s architect, Bob Smith, and spoke with a General Services Administration (GSA) official to better understand any issues of flexibility about placing the proposed Social Security Administration (SSA) facility (the tenant occupying the majority of the Garden site).

We request that any re-zoning be delayed until the following issues are resolved.

The property has substantial social and cultural significance to the people of Phoenix.  We are confident that when the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office completes its Hispanic Historic Properties Survey, scheduled to begin this summer, the site will weigh in as one of the most culturally significant in our city.  The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is also now evaluating the property’s historic significance.

The developer has stated that the Garden can’t be incorporated into the current design because of strict GSA guidelines.  However, Section 106 and 110(k) of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and Executive Order 13006: “Locating in Historic Buildings in Central Cities” raises genuine concerns about demolishing this building for use by its intended tenant, the U.S. Social Security Administration.  Under Section 106, a property must be evaluated for historical and archaeological significance.  Under Section 110(k), if a building on the property is demolished before this formal evaluation takes place, GSA cannot be a party to a lease at the site because of the adverse effects of the demolition.  In addition, the GSA official indicated there is more flexibility with the building design than we were originally made aware of, allowing, in our opinion, room for the Garden to be incorporated into existing plans.

After reviewing the developer’s traffic study, we have genuine concerns about how this dense office park (with a small component of retail and residential) will impact the adjacent neighborhoods, both residential and commercial.  When the full project is completed, there will be over 7,000 new trips to the site each day, with the majority of traffic routed onto Adams St. on the project’s south side.  A serious bottleneck will be created at the corner of 7th Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Van Buren St.  The neighborhoods to the north, including the blossoming arts and retail district along Grand Avenue, will also be adversely affected.

In your most recent State of the City Address, you outlined a vision for an Opportunity Corridor, generally running east and west along the Rio Salado.  Why not, beginning at 7th Avenue to our State Capitol, between Jefferson and Van Buren, you and Governor Napolitano propose a Centennial Corridor of Arizona Culture and Civics (Centennial Corridor, for short)?  Consider the landmarks in this area — Grace Court School, Carnegie Library, Pioneer and Military Memorial Park, Arizona Hall of Fame Museum, Wesley Bolin Plaza, Arizona Mining and Minerals Museum, historic State Capitol, proposed Polly Rosenbaum State Archives and History Building, all of our institutions of state government, and, yes, Madison Square Garden.  The entrance to this special corridor should be grand.  It should be more visually excellent and welcoming to residents, tourists, and office workers, during the day and evening, because the 24/7 city that you and our organization both envision simply cannot afford yet another “dead spot” after the work day has ended.

The “creative class” is here and now.  And we can do better — together.  Let’s encourage and work with the developer and architect to initiate the beginnings of our Centennial Corridor, incorporating the vintage Madison Square Garden into the design because of its cultural and social significance to so many Phoenicians and Arizonans past and present.  And on February 14, 2012, after the focused energy of all downtown players have spent the last seven years revitalizing and rehabilitating the area with infill residential, retail, entertainment, office, government, education, public art, and park spaces, we can point with pride back to this day.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Susan Copeland, Co-Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition

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