Monthly Archives: March 2010

This week on CenPhoTV (03-26-2010)

Friday March 26 is the opening night of the newest exhibit at the Alwun House. It’s called light house, and will feature illuminated works by over 30 artists, and the gallery lights will stay out. You’re encouraged to show up in your on illuminated outfit, and there will be a prize for the best. There will also be performances, including a set by the dry river yacht club. Also Friday night, Smeeks is holding the first ever Caramelpalooza, where you’ll get to sample some of Phoenix’s best showing off their caramel creations.

Cigna opening downtown Phoenix clinic

[Source: Angela Gonzales, Phoenix Business Journal] — Cigna Medical Group is opening a CareToday clinic in downtown Phoenix.  This will be Cigna’s ninth CareToday clinic in the Valley.   Construction workers are refurbishing a 1,400-square-foot space formerly occupied by Quizno’s on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams Street.  Plans call for opening the new facility in May.  Cigna officials said they chose the spot because of an increase in growth and activity downtown.

This week on CenPhoTV (03-19-2010)

Downtown Voices statement on proposed demolition of Sahara/Ramada Hotel for parking lot

To the Mayor, City Council, ASU Officials, City Staff, ASU Staff, and the Citizens of Phoenix:

It seems for every success that Phoenix can point to as ASU’s benefit to the downtown’s vitality, there also seem glaring and obvious deficiencies.  The decision to purchase and raze an existing historic structure, the Sahara/Ramada Hotel, and replace it with an overflow parking lot for a city-owned hotel, seems an obvious contradiction.

  • Though ASU and Phoenix both promote sustainable development, there is nothing in this direction that is sustainable, Earth-friendly, or revitalizing.
  • Phoenix already has land-banked large swaths of empty lots.
  • The campus was originally proposed to decentralize through downtown, rather than an aggregate of clustered buildings, in an effort to promote activity throughout the downtown.
  • For ASU to promote sustainability and the City to promote adaptive reuse, it seems disingenuous to then take down a historic and easily repaired structure and replace it with an asphalt lot.
  • Likewise, for Phoenix to promote light rail to discourage more cars on the road and the need for lots to park them, while investing in yet another parking lot to serve a city-owned and developed hotel, seems equally two-faced.

There are great opportunities to save, restore, and adapt the original Sahara/Ramada Hotel, with uses that fit well with the city-promoted need for hotel rooms and ASU’s existing colleges.  Within a one-hour Downtown Voices Coalition Steering Committee meeting on Saturday, March 13, ideas were discussed that would create revenue streams.  A true boutique hotel along the lines of The Clarendon, various care and health facilities (assisted living, long-term care, hospice, or transitional living), and even working art studios to bring fine art students to downtown are all more creative directions and tax revenue than another off-the-tax-rolls empty lot.

The Downtown Voices Coalition Steering Committee urges the City of Phoenix and ASU Downtown to abandon its harmful decision to demolish the Sahara/Ramada, and instead discuss more creative and forward-thinking goals for this property.  We look forward to a dialogue and request a planning session.  We also trust no decision will be made without further input.

Thank you.

Steve Weiss
Steering Committee Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition

Viewpoint: Why preserve a mid-century downtown Phoenix motel?

[Source: Rachel Dawn Luptak] — The historically relevant Sahara Motor Inn has an entire city block’s worth of eight possible retail spaces, café/bar, enough commercial kitchen space to accommodate additional dining and lounge facilities, gift shop, two large terrace suites for hosting meetings and parties, 175 guest rooms, and two apartment penthouses.  One of these penthouses accommodated Marilyn Monroe during the filming of her movie “Bus Stop.”

This hotel was built in 1955 by our valley’s own mid-century mover and shaker in the commercial real estate and construction industry.  His name was Delbert E. Webb, who was also a part owner of the motel at the time.  His name might also sound familiar to you because it is also the current name of ASU’s own Del E. Webb School of Construction, which boasts of its collaboration that created ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.  How ironic, because we all know that the most “sustainable” use of a built environment is to re-use and re-cycle what is already there, instead of adding more debris to our landfills.

Our Sahara/Ramada structure was designed by a talented mid-century modern architect, Matthew E. Trudell, who used period style materials that you couldn’t afford to use today in a roadside motel: red brick, colored art glass details, mosaic tiles, floor to ceiling glass, cast-in-place concrete, solid block, and patterned block.  This is a structure that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so if allowed the opportunity.  There are still original drawings that depict the detailing of this mid-century design.  There is also a report created just last year by a group of architects and engineering professionals on the existing facility’s structure and systems, and what it would cost to bring everything up to today’s functioning standards and codes.

If the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Del Webb aren’t enough of a history to save this structure, hopefully the history of our motor inns and the local memories will.  This type of “mini-resort” made Phoenix accessible to the masses and helped put our city on the map during the 50’s.  Many have already been bulldozed, and their historical relevance and place making identities are forever gone.  Our Phoenix locals who are old enough to know this hotel have been coming out and speaking to groups like the Downtown Voices Coalition.  For instance, a grandmother from back East recalled her first visit to Phoenix where she stayed at the Sahara.  It was while she was there, experiencing a day of summer life at the courtyard pool and witnessing the joy being had by the children and all guests, that she decided to move to Phoenix to start her own family.   A UPS driver who used to deliver to the Sahara wrote to us and calls it “an amazing place that deserves to be preserved.” 

Modern urbanites would like to have the opportunity to sip pina coladas by the pool.  The architectural and engineering professionals who have studied the facility feel it has great potential and deserves to be preserved.  It is a one of a kind actual “oasis” in our downtown core and should be valued as such.  And nobody — and I mean nobody — that actually lives and breathes downtown wants to see another parking lot.  [Note: For more information, photos, and design renderings, click here.]

This week on CenPhoTV (March 12, 2010)

This week on cenphotv, the alwun house ushers in spring, the downtown voices coalition meets, another sidewalk sale on roosevelt row, the aloha festival, and a discussion about ansel adams led by his former assistant.

MPAC board votes to ‘wind down’ organization in flagging economy

[Source: MPAC, Flinn Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust] — Confronted with difficult economic times, for itself and the arts and culture organizations it was formed to support, the Metro Phoenix Partnership for Arts and Culture (MPAC) board of directors has voted to cease the nonprofit organization’s staffing and programmatic operations.  MPAC will support the plan of its major funders to use remaining grants funds to directly assist arts and culture organizations.

For five years, MPAC has led the state in understanding the vital connection between the creative community and economic development.  Formed in 2004 by grants from the Flinn Foundation and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, MPAC has worked to promote a vibrant creative community in Maricopa County and harness arts and culture as an economic driver.  The foundations supported the nonprofit organization with the goal of it achieving self-sufficiency by the conclusion of the grants, scheduled for early 2011.

The recession challenged MPAC’s economic viability and fundraising efforts, as it has done to arts and culture organizations across the nation.  It ultimately thwarted plans to place a revenue-generating initiative for arts and culture on the statewide ballot—a strategy that has been successful in other major metropolitan areas during better economic times.  “Rather than continue to consume valuable grant monies, the board made the decision to wind down the organization and support the foundations’ plans to use the remaining grant funds to support arts and culture organizations directly,” said Sandra Werthman, who chairs the MPAC board of directors.

“MPAC has made substantial progress in setting the framework for arts and culture to thrive from an economic perspective in the Phoenix area,” said Myra Millinger, MPAC president and CEO.  “We just could not ignore the fiscal realities that jeopardize MPAC’s long-term existence.”

The Flinn Foundation and Piper Trust have agreed to work together in fashioning a one-time arts and culture initiative with the remaining grant funds.  Plans will be announced once program details are decided in upcoming weeks. [Note: Read the full press release at MPAC board votes to ‘wind down’ organization in flagging economy.]

Wisconsin firm buys troubled midtown Phoenix project

[Source: Milwaukee Business Journal] — Main Street Ingredients, a La Crosse company that manufactures and distributes food-processing ingredients, has been selected to buy the “opulent” Chateaux on Central brownstone project in Phoenix for $7 million.  The unfinished residential development at the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Palm Lane has been financially troubled since construction started in 2005.  All forward movement stopped when the lender, Mortgages Ltd., took it back in 2008 shortly before that company was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Mark Winkleman, chief operating officer of ML Manager LLC, said MSI West Investments LLC submitted the winning bid for the Chateaux.  Closing on the property is scheduled for Friday.  ML Manager is the court-approved entity administering the Mortgages Ltd. loan portfolio in the wake of the lender’s bankruptcy.  The Chateaux is one of the first Mortgages Ltd. properties to be sold off.

Dave Clark, CEO of Main Street Ingredients of La Crosse, confirmed that his company is behind the winning bid.  Main Street recently created MSI West, a limited-liability company registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission.  The company has purchased real estate in other states and started looking around the Phoenix area last year.  “We like what we see in downtown Phoenix,” Clark said.  “We feel this will be a good investment, but we’re not here to turn a dollar.”

The project was designed as 21 five-story residences with private elevators and rooftop terraces.  The announced prices ranged from $2.8 million to $4.5 million per unit, but none were sold.  Desert Hills Bank provided the first construction loan, but the relationship soured when the bank filed a lien on the property.  The late Scott Coles, then CEO of Mortgages Ltd., stepped in to salvage the project, but Coles committed suicide on June 2, 2008, thrusting the entire Mortgages Ltd. loan and property portfolio into limbo.  Within a month of Coles’ death, several borrowers forced Mortgages Ltd. into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

MADPHX “Vision Quests” podcast examines turning plans into action

The folks at MADPHX — Jose Gonzalez, Derek Neighbors, Nina Miller, Mark Dudlik, and Bully Bjorn — return this week and the discussion turns to how to develop plans of action and suggestions for driving implementation.  One of the examples they bring up is the January 16 Downtown Voices Coalition “visioning session.”  MADPHX is a podcast of representatives of the “creative class” in metro Phoenix talking about what they are doing to help make a dent in the communities they live and work in.

Couple invest in downtown Phoenix neighborhood, arts boutique

[Source: Georgann Yara, Special for The Republic] — When Cindy Dach and her husband, Greg Esser, bought a vintage cottage south of Roosevelt Street and west of Seventh Street in 2001, the area was sketchy, especially after sunset, Dach said.  At the time, Dach joked that when she saw a car slow she would hurry inside.  Five years later, a slowing car means a real-estate agent or prospective homebuyer is inspecting properties.  “Now it’s someone looking for one of our hidden bars,” Dach said.  “It’s funny how that metaphor of cars slowing down shows how the neighborhood is changing.”

That vintage cottage houses her shop, Made Art Boutique, part of a revitalization of funky galleries, eclectic boutiques, and bars in the heart of Phoenix’s hipster haven.  That was not the vibe when Dach opened Made Art in March 2005.  At first, the boutique opened for limited hours and focused around events and occasionally offered crafting workshops.  By that November, Dach was able to expand hours.  The business was running at a loss at first, but it stabilized in 2007.

Owning the building gave Dach the flexibility to take risks.  “It was a huge advantage,” she said.  “We knew the rent wouldn’t go up when the neighborhood changes, and we felt we could manage it within the community.  We did know we were ahead of our time.”  [Note: Read the full article at Couple invest in downtown Phoenix neighborhood, arts boutique.]