Daily Archives: March 15, 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.]