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Adaptive reuse key to Phoenix’s diverse and unique history

[Source: Kimber Lanning, Local First Arizona, and David Cavazos, City of Phoenix, “My Turn” column, Arizona Republic] — The city of Phoenix has a plan to ensure our history will become part of our future, as vintage buildings are given new vitality through a process known as adaptive reuse.  This process instills a sense of character and diversity in our city -– a balance of modern construction and the modification of existing buildings.  The process also represents a commitment to future generations and provides jobs for today. 

During the last few years, we have witnessed tremendous growth in our city.  Partners including small business owners and entrepreneurs are major components to this growth.  In exchange for sweat equity, they are looking for a simplified path through the development process. 

It is easier to see why major projects such as the Phoenix Convention Center, CityScape, and Sheraton Downtown Phoenix (to name a few), are essential to economic growth and prosperity.  However, we all need to better realize the importance of the small adaptive reuse projects, including restaurants such as Fate, Cibo, Palette, and Roosevelt Tavern, and shops such as MADE Boutique.  These new businesses offer the influx of ASU and U of A students, convention visitors, and guests of the new Sheraton memorable experiences and places to frequent.

The positive benefits of adaptive reuse come with some challenges.  Bringing older buildings up to code to meet today’s fire, structural safety, and accessibility requirements can present a financial burden for small business owners.  At the end of the day, the adaptive reuse project must be financially feasible.  To this end, the City of Phoenix developed a pilot program to simplify the process of modifying older buildings for new purposes, while continuing to ensure the safety of all construction.  This program includes a comprehensive 10-item plan that includes defining life safety issues; allowing the routine use of the International Existing Building Code (which often reduces the scope and cost of modifications to the building); internal and external education programs; and evaluating “best practices” of other cities.  A task force comprised of senior staff from a number of city departments was formed to ensure all 10 items are achieved.  The task force also will conduct focus groups to ensure that we are including our diverse community in this plan.

At this stage in the evolution of downtown, city leaders recognize the need for the city to become a partner in the growth of new businesses, both large and small.  Now is the time to encourage business growth with over 750 new student residents moving downtown in August, and over 1,000 overnight guests daily coming to our new Sheraton and new light rail connecting downtown to other parts of the Valley.  The City is committed to streamlining and deregulating the development process for adaptive re-use and new in-fill development in our city’s core without compromising public safety.  Mayor Gordon and City Council are in strong support of this pilot program and will review the task force recommendations in the fall.