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DVC Statement on Rezoning of Sahara Hotel/Ramada Inn into another parking lot.

Note: Background information the Sahara Hotel Ramada Inn is here http://bit.ly/9wqIHC

Demolition began on the Sahara Motor Hotel, May 12, 2010. It wil be completed this week.

On August 12, a zoning hearing to change the usage status of the Sahara Hotel/Ramada Inn, where Downtown Voices Coalition and other concerned citizens were hoping to voice their discontent with making an existing vintage motor hotel into a “temporary” parking lot, was continued by the City.

We firmly believe that our statements led to this continuance, and by the time the rescheduled hearing on August 26th occurs, the demolition will be complete and our statements will be moot.

Nevertheless, the Downtown Voices Coalition wants to make their statement available to the public, to help spread the word about this ridiculous decision being taken by the City of Phoenix.

Steve Weiss, subcommittee chair Sahara Hotel/Ramada Inn Preservation

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I’m speaking today for the Downtown Voices Coalition, an organization that includes small business owners, artists, historic preservationists, housing advocates, developers and other Phoenix stakeholders, all striving for a better downtown for residents and visitors.
One of our developer members finds it difficult to convince people to bring new projects to the downtown, especially when driving them through large swaths of empty, unused land and rows of asphalt parking lots. Investors are suspicious of a city’s progressiveness when it spends more time and money on land banking and demolition than creative and adaptive development.
The Sheraton is a city-owned and constructed hotel. If it wasn’t built with enough parking to accommodate its users, this should be fixed creatively, not destructively. A future ASU project on the site could be worked into the existing vintage structure, utilizing skills hopefully taught at its own architecture school. There is also still private-sector potential for adaptive re-use, even with the initial demolition, to make something more of the property than mere asphalt and land-fill.
Therefore, Downtown Voices Coalition asks you to deny the re-zoning and help us to hit the reset button on this demolition. If the current city administration doesn’t have the foresight to consider the alternatives, it should at least be saved for ideas from a future and more visionary group of planners.

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More information on this property

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UPDATE: METRO bus strike averted; union contract extended to August 15

The Phoenix New Times is reporting that Phoenix bus riders have been spared a possible bus strike come Monday…

The Teamsters Local Union No. 104, which represents the employees who fuel and clean the buses, extended its contract until August 15.

The other two unions that represent Veolia Transportation employees had already agreed to extend talks. The bus mechanics union (International Union of Operating Engineers Local 428) agreed yesterday to extend its contract to August 15, and the bus operators union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, has extended its contract until Sept. 30.

“It’s a good sign that they’re still talking,” said Debra Stark, executive assistant to the City Manager, who oversees the city’s Public Transit Department.

ALERT! Potential transit strike could affect downtown Phoenix

[from the City of Phoenix website]

Veolia Transportation Services Transit Labor Union Strike

The City of Phoenix Public Transit Department provides local bus, RAPID, Express, Neighborhood Circulator, and Dial-A-Ride service to the public.  Each of these services is provided by the city through contracts with private companies, which are responsible for hiring employees, scheduling and staffing routes, and negotiating employee benefits and compensation as part of their agreements.

Currently one of the city’s contractors for local bus and circulator service, Veolia Transportation Services, is in negotiations with three unions representing its employees.  Contracts with each union ended in June, and negotiations are ongoing.  It is possible that if negotiations should reach an impasse, transit service in Phoenix could be disrupted as early as July 25.

In light of that possibility, Phoenix Public Transit is recommending passengers begin researching alternate transportation plans to get to work, or other regular destinations of travel.  Below are additional resources about possible service interruptions, and alternate methods of transportation.

Negotiations Update:
No update at this time.

Press Release on Possible Transit Strike
This press release provides information the possible strike, as well as travel alternatives for passengers.

Background Information
Background information about Phoenix Public Transit services and contractors.

Phoenix Public Transit and Its Contractors
An organizational chart that shows the relationship between The CIty of Phoenix and its transit contractors.

Media Contacts
News outlets with questions about ongoing labor negotiations or affected transit service can call these contacts.

Passenger Information

Use the Trip Planner on ValleyMetro.org for bus and METRO schedules.

Go to ValleyMetro.org to check the schedules of non-affected bus routes and for the METRO schedule – passengers may be able to use an alternative route.  Also check a map of unaffected bus routes below.

You can also call Valley Metro Customer Service at 602-253-5000, TTY 602-261-8208.

Carpools or vanpools

Register at Share the Ride for a carpool or vanpool match list or call (602) 262-RIDE (7433).  If you want to meet your carpool partners at a neutral site, check out the list of Phoenix owned and operated sites.

Taxis, limos, and shuttles Sky Harbor, operated by the Phoenix Aviation Department, has a list of transportation companies on their website.

Route Information:

Veolia Route List

Veolia Route Map

Veolia Service (by City)

Non-Veolia Route List

Non-Veolia Route Map

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Downtown Voices Coalition issues statement on demolition of downtown Phoenix vintage motel

Demolition begins on the Sahara Motor Hotel, May 12, 2010 (new use: parking lot for Channel 12 News trucks)

PHOENIX, AZ, May 13, 2010 — Phoenix woke up yesterday with one less piece of its history. The Ramada Inn, formerly the Sahara Motor Hotel, at 1st Street and Polk, is now under the bulldozer.  We, Downtown Voices Coalition, believe our actions to save the building instead sped up its destruction.

At a Friday afternoon meeting last week with Mayor Phil Gordon and city staff, the Sahara/Ramada Subcommittee of Downtown Voices Coalition asked for a moratorium on the demolition, to give time for a feasibility study and look at a potential adaptive reuse by a boutique hotel company waiting in the wings.  This is the same moratorium that would be asked of any private developer.

We were told there that the “train had left the station” on this project.

Here are some of the points given by the Mayor and city staff (and DVC’s response in CAPS):

The Sheraton Hotel, a city-financed and designed project, needed more parking.

  • WHY WASN’T THE HOTEL BUILT WITH THE PROPER PARKING IN MIND TO BEGIN WITH?

The ASU Downtown campus design includes a Law School, with ground-breaking “anticipated” in two years and designs already on the board.

  • WHY IS THE ONLY LAND IN DOWNTOWN PHOENIX NEEDED TO BUILD ALWAYS UNDER AN EXISTING AND INTERESTING BUILDING? AND WHY TALK ABOUT ALL THE DESIGN COSTS ALREADY SPENT WHEN THERE HASN’T YET BEEN MONEY RAISED OR A REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL?

The Law College is going to be a great thing for downtown.

  • ALL CITIES THAT SUCCEED UNDERSTAND A CITY IS AN URBAN PLACE, NOT A TALL SUBURB.  THE SAHARA/RAMADA WOULD HAVE BEEN OUR PALM SPRINGS/SCOTTSDALE VALLEY HO LINK AND WE JUST PUT IT IN A DUMPSTER.
  • WITH LAW FIRMS STOPPING THEIR OUTREACH AND LAYING OFF LAWYERS, IS A NEW LAW SCHOOL A WISE INVESTMENT?
  • WITH OUR STATE IN THE WORST FINANCIAL SHAPE IN DECADES, IS IT TIME TO BUILD NEW BUILDINGS WHEN EXISTING STRUCTURES EXIST?
  • ULTIMATELY, COULDN’T WE HAVE HAD BOTH A LAW COLLEGE AND A VINTAGE HOTEL?

The ASU Downtown is spread through the downtown.

  • ASU DOWNTOWN IS A MOATED, GATED COMMUNITY, INSULAR AND SEPARATE FROM THE DOWNTOWN.  ALL THE PROMISES OF SPREADING OUT THE CAMPUS THROUGH THE DOWNTOWN SEEM CONVENIENTLY FORGOTTEN.
  • TAKING AWAY A POTENTIAL LINKAGE TO THE REST OF THE CITY BY CREATING ANOTHER PARKING LOT IS A FOOL’S MOVE.

Instead of working to save this building, work with the city to save other threatened buildings.

  • BETWEEN SPECULATORS, ASU DOWNTOWN, AND THE CITY’S OWN DISINGENUOUS APPROACH TO HISTORIC PRESERVATION, THERE IS SO LITTLE LEFT TO SAVE.

There was no way the city could denigrate the actual building, other than saying it was a liability issue.  After all, this was a poured concrete building, built in 1955 by Del Webb Construction, the same company whose name adorns the ASU Del E. Webb School of Construction.  It was positioned for a true urban mid-century modern hotel like the highly successful Valley Ho in Scottsdale.

For all the “lip service” to historic preservation, why has so much attempted and successful demolition of historic and vintage architecture occurred under the current City administration?  Granted there have been preservation success stories and Downtown Voices Coalition has joined in praising those successes, but unfortunately this example demonstrates our City’s “one step forward, two steps back” nature.

Downtown Voices Coalition mourns another potential “win/win” for its citizens, ASU Downtown, and the City of Phoenix.  The City administration and Mayor Gordon have made Phoenix a poorer place by their choices.

MORE INFO ON PROPERTY

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

Jackson Street Entertainment District hits a political nerve

[Source: Michele Laudig, Phoenix New Times] — This afternoon, the City of Phoenix Planning and Zoning Committee has a scheduled hearing on the establishment, through rezoning, of the controversial Jackson Street Entertainment District — ground zero for those five new Bernie Kantak restaurants I mentioned yesterday.  And it looks like a protest is in the works, too.  I found the link on Twitter [and Facebook].

It seems like there would be a lot of support for a mixed-use development like this, but as with CityScape a few years ago, there’s plenty of skepticism as well.  The fact that Jackson Street Entertainment District will be located in the Warehouse District — where there are a number of historically significant early 20th century buildings — makes it all the more sensitive.  (However, a staff report from the Planning Department notes that this project will preserve the historical character of the Warehouse District.) [Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

Another feature of downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space is historic A.E. England Building

While much of the hubbub of downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space focused on Janet Echelman’s public art piece, “Her Secret is Patience,” another important feature of the park is the historic A.E. England Building.   Thanks to the 2006 Historic Preservation Bond Committee, Phoenix residents who voted for the 2006 Bond Program, local preservation advocates, the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and Commission, and Mayor Gordon and City Council, the building was spared from the wrecking ball (yes, it was threatened at one point).

The interior renovation is not quite done.  While you’re waiting for it to be completed and the “grand opening” later this spring, sit back and read about its history, courtesy of the staff at the Historic Preservation Office:

Locally prominent builder Clinton Campbell constructed the A.E. England Motors, Inc./Electrical Equipment Co. building in 1926.   The Spanish Renaissance Revival style building features three large storefront windows with ornate cast concrete window surrounds and decorative course molding along the roof parapet.  Six original bow-string wood trusses, sandwiched between new laminated beams, support the roof structure.

Originally an automotive dealership, A.E. England sold autos from the Hudson Motor Car Co. (1909-1954) and its less expensive Essex brand.   Cars were featured prominently in the building’s large display windows.   Central Avenue north of Van Buren Street became Phoenix’s first “auto row,” lined with Cadillac, Studebaker, Ford, and DeSoto dealerships well into the 1960s.

England left the auto sales business sometime in the early 1930s.   The Electrical Equipment Co., purveyors of radios, batteries, and Kelvinator refrigerators, occupied the building for the next twenty-five years.   The company’s “Gold Room,” decorated with gold drapes, gold walls and gold wicker furniture, provided an optimal radio listening experience for prospective buyers.  Five Atwater-Kent cabinet radios were on display, ready for demonstration by company salesmen.

The Electrical Equipment Co., along with The Arizona Republican (now The Arizona Republic) newspaper, owned the KTAR radio station.   Initially called KFAD and founded in 1922, KTAR was the first radio station in Arizona.   The Electrical Equipment Co. provided the equipment for the radio station which was originally located in the Heard Building at 112 N. Central Avenue.

In its later years, the A.E. England Motors Co., Inc./Electrical Equipment Co. building hosted a stationery store and an art gallery.   The building’s north wall, which was originally a party wall with another building, now consists largely of glass storefront panels in-filled between the original concrete columns.  The building was listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2006 and rehabilitated by the City of Phoenix in 2008-2009 as part of the downtown Phoenix Civic Space.

Viewpoint: Downtown park’s details, sculpture a nod to Phoenix’s future

[Source: Arizona Republic] — A gigantic swirl of metal mesh floats in the sky, rising nearly 100 feet into the air. Designed by artist Janet Echelman, the sculpture has the evocative name, “Her Secret is Patience.”

The sight is all the more amazing because it almost never happened.

In the midst of questions about construction schedules, doubts about materials and controversy over the design, Phoenix City Council members resisted efforts to take the sculpture off their agenda.   They had the foresight to say yes.

Now, we can see just how right they were.

Yes.  This is just what Phoenix needs: a distinctive feature that helps create a real sense of place.

At night, the lighting creates a surreal funnel of color.

What you might overlook are all the other creative features in the park, from paving to solar panels.  In the long run, they can be as significant as the sculpture in shaping the identity of the city — and the region.

The walkways include pervious concrete and pavers, which will let our precious rainfall seep through to the ground.

While it’s not obvious yet, the trees and plants are designed to shade more than 70 percent of the park’s surface area once they reach maturity.   Phoenix has long needed more attention to ways of dealing with a dual challenge: the natural heat of the desert and the unnatural buildup of heat from urbanization.

City trees face special stresses here.   Those in the park are planted with a special soil to let roots grow and a grating system to let in air and water.

The park, which goes by the temporary name of Downtown Civic Space, is also a step forward in boosting Phoenix’s use of solar power.   The shade structures have solar panels that will generate enough power to offset the energy use at the park.

In such a relatively new city, a nod to history is critical, too.   The historic A.E. England building has been preserved and is under renovation as a space for community functions, classrooms, retail, and dining.

And here’s a shocker — there are no parking spaces.  Light rail and bus stops are nearby. Residents, students, workers and visitors can walk.   It’s a nudge toward a less car-dependent future.

The park just has one lingering question: a name.  The current drab moniker is a placeholder.  The city is hoping a benefactor will step forward to support the new park, just as the Steele Foundation helped pay for building Steele Indian School Park.

Some individual or organization should be eager to grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.   On the other hand, the economy is still weak.  In this case, maybe the secret is patience.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Tonight, community invited to learn more about Jackson St. Entertainment District plans

The first Planned Urban Development (PUD)-required “Community Meeting” for the Jackson Street Entertainment District project in Phoenix’s historic Warehouse District will be held:

  • Date: Thursday, April 9, 2009
  • Time: 6 p.m. start
  • Place: The Summit at Copper Square condominium

The public is invited to attend.

Downtown Phoenix artwork goes up next week; see it on webcam

[Source: Corey Schubert, ASU and Joyce Valdez, City of Phoenix] — ASU’s College of Public Programs has reactivated its live webcam to share a “dean’s-eye view” of the installation of artist Janet Echelman’s floating net sculpture at the Downtown Civic Space Park.  The sculpture, titled “Her secret is patience,” is set to be installed March 9 to 12.  The design of the sculpture was inspired by Arizona’s distinctive monsoon cloud formations, and by saguaro flowers and boots (which form inside the cactus).  Its title comes from a quote by poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”

The webcam view from the sixth floor of the college, located next to the park in downtown Phoenix, overlooks the two giant steel rings which will help support the sculpture.  The webcam can be accessed online here.  It is housed in the offices of Debra Friedman, university vice president and dean of the College of Public Programs at the Downtown Phoenix campus.

The flexible netting will be suspended 38 feet above the ground on a framework of steel rings, cables and poles.  The artwork will rise to an overall height of 100 feet and be about 100 feet wide at the top.  Special lighting will make the sculpture visible as a landmark at night.  The structure that will support the art sculpture was a complicated feat of engineering that was recognized with the Excellence in Structural Engineering Award from the Arizona Structural Engineers Association.

When opened next month, the 2.77-acre Downtown Civic Space Park will include several large grassy areas, spaces with game tables, an interactive water feature, public seating and hardscape where student organizations can network, much like they do outside ASU’s Memorial Union in Tempe, and Phoenicians and visitors can mingle.  [Note: To read the ASU Web Devil’s coverage of the event, click here.  For more information, click on Fact Sheet, FAQ, and Press Release.]

Downtown Phoenix sculpture gets a name, and it’s not “jellyfish”

"Her secret is patience" patiently awaits its netting (Photo: Arizona Republic)

[Source: Connie Cone Sexton, Arizona Republic] — For almost a year, Sky Bloom has been the working title for a public art sculpture being created for a downtown Phoenix park.   The name fit, in part, because it represents the sculpture’s design: a floating saguaro cactus flower.  But on Tuesday, Boston artist Janet Echelman unveiled the formal name she has chosen — Her secret is patience.  It is half of the full line — “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience” — by poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.  The name is also fitting, as the piece has been both hailed and questioned during the past months.  Now, with the last element of the piece to be added in early March, the patience of the public is soon to be rewarded, allowing them to judge the piece as a whole.

Echelman discussed her work at the Phoenix Art Museum.  During the evening, she was congratulated time and again by audience members.  She stressed that the piece wouldn’t be possible without the collaboration of a wide-ranging team.  The group includes the Phoenix Arts and Culture Office; CAID Industries, a Tucson metal-fabrication specialist; EDAW, a landscape architectural firm in Phoenix; M3 Engineers of Tucson, which made the structural steel; Speranza Architecture in Barcelona; designer Buro Happold from New York; ForeSite Design and Construction from Tempe which did the foundation in the park; Nexus Steel of Tempe, which erected the steel posts; Diamond Nets of Washington state, which is weaving the netting; and NETServices also of Washington state, which will install the netting.

That many companies with Arizona connections could take some of the fight out of naysayers who questioned the piece since it was approved by the City Council in 2007.  The project is being funded by the city’s Percent for Art program.  The sculpture is to be an iconic piece for the 2.77-acre Civic Space downtown park being developed between Central and First avenues, and Van Buren and Fillmore streets.

Echelman profusely thanked Valley residents for standing up for her project.  At one point in late 2007, some city leaders suggested it be cut.  A groundswell of support helped push it forward.  “I am privileged,” Echelman said to the audience.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]