Phoenix City Council at its December 14, 2005 hearing sided primarily with the real estate developer and ignored most of the pleas of the Chinese- and Asian-American and historic preservation communities to preserve the historic 1920s Chinatown Sun Mercantile Building and set aside 4,500 square feet of space for a history museum. The council allowed the developer to build 11-stories of condominiums through and above the Sun Merc. In addition, in hopes of pleasing the Chinese- and Asian-American communities, it required the developer to set aside 1,000 square feet of space inside the Sun Merc and 1,000 square feet of space outside the Sun Merc for exhibits and displays for museum use, and required the developer to donate $75,000 over two years to the newly created Arizona Asian American Museum Foundation.
Rally, Lion Dance. The day began with a rally outside next to the council chambers by supporters of saving the Sun Merc. Over 100 supporters attended the rally where a pair of traditional Chinese lion dancers performed to bring good luck to and drive away evil spirits from the city council hearing. Supporters held up signs in English, Chinese, and other Asian languages to save the Sun Merc and for an Asian museum. They were heard chanting “save Sun Merc, save Sun Merc, save Sun Merc.” It was quite a scene, with television, radio and newspaper reporters present to record the moment. Barry Wong, Chairman of the Save SunMerc Coalition, gave remarks energizing supporters in advance of the council’s hearing.
Council Hearing: Community Leaders Speak. The City Council started its hearing at 5 p.m. to address the Sun Merc matter. By way of background, the luxury hotel and condominium developer had appealed the prior decision of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission that favored the historic preservation and Asian American communities. The Commission required the developer to remove from its plans the 11-stories above the Sun Merc and that at least 4,500 square feet of space be reserved for use by the Asian American community for history museum use. Nearly 200 supporters of saving the Sun Merc and setting aside space for an Asian American museum attended the hearing, mostly Chinese- and Asian-Americans. Also, 30-some members of the Chinese Senior Citizens Association, led by its president, Mr. Wen, made a special trip to attend the hearing. This issue, for the first time, galvanized the Chinese- and Asian-American communities to attend and protest their city government elected leaders to take action in support of their community.
After city staff and the developer’s representatives spoke, Barry Wong was called up by the mayor to testify and make an opening statement on behalf of the Save SunMerc Coalition, followed by Jim McPherson, President of the Arizona Preservation Foundation.
The public was later given the opportunity to comment as well. Many Chinese- and Asian-American community leaders stepped forward to speak, including Dr. Pearl Tang, wife of the late Hon. Thomas Tang, former Phoenix Vice Mayor and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Ninth Circuit; Eddie Yue, President, Chinese United Association of Greater Phoenix; Eva Li, president, OCA/Phoenix Chapter; Arif Kazmi, President, Arizona Asian American Association; Annie White, Overseas Chinese Woman’s Club; John Tang, past president, Chinese United Association; Doris Ong, member, Board of Trustees, Phoenix Art Museum; and Virginia Chang, President, Desert Jade Woman’s Club.
Decision, Future Action. After nearly three hours of testimony, the city council discussed the issue and rendered its decision. After the decision was announced, the developer still would not commit to the 1,000 square feet designated for inside the Sun Merc and wanted the council to place more restrictions on how the Arizona Asian American Museum Foundation could use the developer-required donation of money. Supporters of Sun Merc in the audience were disappointed with the council’s decision, then booed and groaned upon hearing the offensive, non-committal statement from the developer. The Save SunMerc Coalition will meet with their legal advisors to decide whether to appeal the council’s decision to court.
Save SunMerc Coalition was formed and has been working daily since early October 2005, in conjunction with the Arizona Preservation Foundation and other historic preservation groups, to preserve Sun Merc and secure space for a museum. Core members of the Coalition are Barry Wong, Eddie Yue, John Tang, Dr. Pearl Tang, Arif Kazmi, Doris Ong, Lani Wo, past president, Chinese United Association, Arnold Wo and Chantri Sukpon Beck, President, Thai-American Friendship Organization.