Blog Archives

What remains of Phoenix’s Warehouse District

The plight of Phoenix’s Warehouse District is an ongoing saga. Unfortunately, with each passing year historic and vintage buildings continue to decay or be demolished.  This slideshow shows buildings in the district that are listed on one or more historic registries. But such designation is not enough to save and reuse them as is commonplace for similar buildings and districts in many other urban centers.

It’s been our hallmark to tear them down and unfortunately, unlike the New Testament’s Lazarus, they can’t be resurrected.  Let’s take stock in what we have, and “cut the Gordian knot” here and now.  It should be the couth thing to do.  The clock is ticking…

For background information on the Warehouse District:

City, Phoenix Suns rethinking destruction of historic Sun Mercantile? Perhaps…

Staff of the City of Phoenix Development Services Department and Historic Preservation Office met with Phoenix Suns representatives to discuss retrofitting the historic Sun Mercantile Building at 232 S. Third Street for events related to the NBA All-Star Game slated for mid-February 2009.  The building would be used for dining and food service during the game events.  Temporary building improvements needed for these events were discussed, as well as the possible requirements for upgrading the building for a more permanent event-related space.

City should preserve Sun Merc, Arizona Republic columnist says

In this October 24, 2007 column, Arizona Republic editorial writer, Richard deUriarte, encourages the City of Phoenix to preserve the 1929 Sun Mercantile Building just as it did with another city-owned property, the Phoenix Union High School buildings at 7th Street and Van Buren.

Phoenix Council may testify in W hotel trial; Court to decide if conflicts existed in talks with developer

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix City Council members and their top aides may have to tell a court whether they had improper talks with the developer of a proposed $200 million W Hotel project.  Last week, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered a trial to sort through conflicting accounts about how the developer tried to sway city leaders to build the project.  That means council members and top aides may have to testify about the behind-the-scenes lobbying tactics in the controversial project.

Developer Suns Legacy Partners was poised last year to build a 39-story W Hotel near US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.  A key part of the project was an 11-story office and condo tower that would have been built on top of a historic warehouse, preserving it from being torn down.  Even if Phoenix wins the court case, litigation and other problems have effectively killed the hotel project for now.  Legal wrangling has delayed the project, and the developer’s deal with W Hotel expired because ground was not broken by June 30.  In his four-page Sept. 18 ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann wrote that a trial would have to sort out whether Mayor Phil Gordon, his council colleagues, and their aides had improper talks with Suns Legacy Partners, the development group that includes Suns owner Robert Sarver and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo.

The litigation is just about procedures; it’s not about the City Council’s decision to build a condo tower on top of a historic building, the mayor and the city attorney say.  The city is weighing its legal options, City Attorney Gary Verburg says.  Gordon denies any wrongdoing.  “There was no influence behind the scenes or any type of nefarious-type discussions,” Gordon said.  “Everything was public.”

The preservationists are prepping for trial, although no date has been set.  They filed the lawsuit to protect the 1920s warehouse, the last vestige of Phoenix’s old Chinatown.  “Phoenix can do better with its historic structures.” said Barry Wong, a former state lawmaker who is a spokesman for the coalition of preservationists and Asian-American community groups.

The City Council was essentially sitting as a judge when it overruled the historic-preservation officials who didn’t think the condo tower should be built on top of the historic warehouse, the coalition argued in court.  When acting as judges, council members can’t have outside talks with the parties in the dispute, the preservationists argued.

The warehouse, the Sun Mercantile Building, is owned by the city.  Suns Legacy Partners has a long-term lease agreement.  Lawyers for both sides agree that preservationists and the hotel developer lobbied the City Council.  However, the preservationists argue that council members and their top aides — including the mayor’s senior assistant, Bill Scheel — may have been swayed by undisclosed talks with the Suns Legacy developer.

The contacts included a Dec. 6 letter from the developer’s lawyer.  The preservationists also point to a form letter that Scheel used to respond to several people who e-mailed Gordon about the project.  In addition to replying on behalf of Gordon, Scheel lauded the project as a “reasonable and positive re-use” of the 1920s warehouse.

Scheel, who has helped run Gordon’s election campaigns, downplayed the letter.  Gordon said his staff gives him advice, but ultimately he and the rest of the council made the final call.  In court, the city argued that council members were more aggressively lobbied by residents and groups that opposed the 11-story tower.  The city’s legal team also argued that the City Council avoided communicating with either side after it was clear that issue would be appealed to the full council.

Since council members are routinely lobbied on issues, it would have been impossible for them to know before the appeal that they should be careful about talking about the case, Verburg said.  In affidavits, council members said that they did not talk to the developer after Suns Legacy appealed the decision the historic preservation decision.  Swann, however, ruled that any contact with parties in the hotel fight could fall under scrutiny.

[Click here to download Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann’s ruling of September 17, 2007.]

$200M W Hotel proposal is dealt a killing blow by ruling; Lawsuit arose in bid to save Sun Merc

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — A proposed $200 million boutique hotel in downtown Phoenix was on life support, but a judge’s Tuesday ruling has effectively killed the existing deal, the developer said.  Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver was poised to build a 39-story W Hotel near US Airways Center.  The development would have included an 11-story office and condo tower built on top of a historic 1920s warehouse.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann ruled that a jury should decide whether the Phoenix City Council had improper talks with Sarver before it decided the fate of the warehouse on the hotel site.  That litigation could drag on for a year or two years on appeal, said Robert Yen, an attorney who represents several groups that want to protect the Sun Mercantile Building, which is considered by many to be the last vestige of Phoenix’s once thriving Chinatown.  “It was a building built by a very prominent Chinese family,” Yen said of the Sun Mercantile.  Back in the 1920s, the property housed a wholesale grocery store owned by Shing Tang, a Chinese immigrant.  The Tang descendents, many of whom still live in Phoenix, include the late Thomas Tang, a former Phoenix City Councilman and federal judge.

The hotel project had another problem, Sarver said Tuesday.  The agreement with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.’s W Hotel brand expired because the project didn’t break ground by June 30, he said.  “It’s too bad, because that’s a part of Phoenix that needs development,” Sarver said.

[Click here to download Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann’s ruling of September 17, 2007.]

Alternative design for hotel/condo project leaves Sun Merc intact

While visiting the online Skyscraper Forum, a Phoenix resident found renderings of architect Will Bruder’s proposed design for the W Hotel and condo project.  One view looks southeast along Jefferson Street between US Airways Center on the west and Suns parking garage on the east (where you can get an inkling of how the back of the building cantilever’s over the Sun Mercantile Building).  A second view shows how the physical integrity of the historic structure is protected to a greater extent.

Alternatives to "facadism" exist right here in Phoenix

According to the National Park Service, responsible for maintaining the National Register of Historic Places, no property listed on the Register would stay on the Register if descrecrated as originally proposed for Phoenix’s historic Sun Mercantile. 

That doesn’t mean creative architectural design or adaptive reuse of historic properties can’t occur.  Examples exist right here in Phoenix.  For example, the rehabilitation of the Phoenix Union High School Buildings at 7th Street and Van Buren blends the old with the new.  City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and Downtown Development Office staff, University of Arizona staff, and project architects have worked closely together to carefully meld historic and new.  The rendering above shows the historic building on the left and new construction glass entry, elevator, stairwell, and restrooms on the right.

Asian American coalition attempts to save Phoenix landmark and build a museum

The San Francisco-based Nichi Bei Times published an article in their February 23, 2006 edition about the Save SunMerc Coalition’s effort to preserve the Sun Mercantile Building and develop an Asian American Museum.  The author, Sam Chu Lin, contributes to various newspapers and reports for KTTV Fox 11 News in Los Angeles.  The same article has appeared in the March 3, 2006 issue of Asian Week and AsianWeek.com.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Row over Chinatown landmark stirs memories

Photo by Angela Cara Pancrazio, Arizona Republic[Source: Angela Cara Pancrazio, Arizona Republic] — If Mary Lum’s Mesa house ever caught fire, she would grab the only thing she cares about: a plastic storage box overflowing with photos and documents, her great-grandmother’s green card and a hand-colored photo of herself with her sister Suzie taken in Hong Kong before they came to America, a place the Chinese called Gold Mountain.  These are some of the traces of the earliest Chinese families that are scattered and stacked inside homes across the Valley.  A grandfather clock hanging on a wall, yellowed Chinese newspapers folded inside a cigar box, faded photos of family grocery stores crammed into dining room buffets.

Many Chinese-Americans, like Lum, are no longer willing to remain quiet about how their families, the first wave of Chinese immigrants, helped shape Arizona.  Last fall, hundreds rallied to save the last remnant of Phoenix’s Chinatown, known as the Sun Mercantile, when developers proposed building an 11-story condo and office tower atop the brick warehouse.  But they weren’t just trying to save the Chinatown landmark; they were trying to save their Chinese and Asian-American heritage here.  The old grocery warehouse is the perfect place, they say, to tell their story.  A place they plan to call the Arizona Asian-American Museum. And what story do they want to tell?  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Groups appeal Phoenix City Council’s Sun Merc decision

[Source: Save SunMerc Coalition] — On Friday, January 13, 2006, in order to preserve their right as citizens and associations to litigate and provide reasonable notice of their continuing claims and legal theories, a motion was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court by the following groups: Arizona Asian American Association, Arizona Asian American Museum Foundation, Arizona Preservation Foundation, Capitol Mall Association, Chinese United Association of Greater Phoenix, Downtown Voices Coalition, Garfield Neighborhood Association, NAILEM, Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix, Oakland University Park Neighborhood Association, Ong Ko Met Family Association, Organization of Chinese Americans (Phoenix Chapter), and Story Preservation Association.  Other groups are considering joining the appeal.  The groups’ sole concern is with the historic Sun Mercantile Building, not the W Hotel or adjacent new construction condominium.  All parties want, advocate, and work for a vibrant, 24/7 downtown -– a downtown that looks to the future, but respects its heritage.

Legal counsel carefully researched and reviewed the Sun Mercantile Building issue.  The appeal of the City Council’s decision is based on the following arguments:

  1. There is no credible evidence in the record supporting the City Council’s reversal of the decisions by its own Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Officer.
  2. The City Council’s decision is contrary to law.  It directly contradicts the Phoenix Historic Preservation Ordinance and applicable state and federal historic preservation statutes, regulations, and rules.
  3. The City Council was obligated to review the decisions by the Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Officer as a quasi-judicial body, not as a legislative body.  By approving the 11-story addition to the top of the Sun Mercantile Building the Council acted legislatively as opposed to quasi-judicially, thereby exceeding its legal authority and jurisdiction and abusing its discretion in approving a dramatic change to the Sun Mercantile Building.
  4. The City Council effectively removed the Historic Preservation zoning from the property (if left in place this action will likely result in the Sun Mercantile Building being removed from the National Register of Historic Places and/or the Arizona historic register) without adhering to the Phoenix Zoning Ordinance and proper notification process.
  5. The City Council’s approval of the 11-story tower atop the Sun Mercantile Building is contrary to the Conservation, Rehabilitation, and Redevelopment Element of the City of Phoenix General Plan.  The illegal zoning change effected by the approval of the 11-story tower is inconsistent with the Phoenix General Plan.

The groups have requested a temporary restraining order, temporary injunction, and/or permanent injunction that would prohibit the City and City Council from taking any further action in regard to redevelopment of the Sun Mercantile Building as approved by the Council on December 14, 2005.