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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.

What are Phoenix’s most endangered historic places?

Sun Mercantile Building in downtown Phoenix, listed on the 2006 Most Endangered Historic Places List.[Source: Arizona Preservation Foundation] — The Arizona Preservation Foundation is accepting nominations for its 2008 list of Arizona’s Most Endangered Historic Places.  Compiled by preservation professionals and historians, the list identifies critically endangered properties of major historical or archaeological significance to the state.  Properties selected for the Most Endangered Historic Places list will receive the Foundation’s assistance in developing support to remove the threat. 

To nominate online and for complete details, click hereThe deadline is June 5, 2008.  Supporting documentation must also be received by the deadline to: Arizona Preservation Foundation, P.O. Box 13492, Phoenix, AZ 85002.  Support materials include clippings, correspondence, and photographs.

The Foundation’s 2007 list is comprised of Arizona State University Historic Properties, Tempe; Buckhorn Baths, Mesa; Camp Naco, Naco; Empire Ranch, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area; Glendale Tract Community Center, Glendale; Havasu Hotel, Seligman; Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale; Kingman Multiple Resources, Kingman; Maple Ash Neighborhood, Tempe; Marist College, Tucson; Old U.S. 80 Bridge (Gillespie Dam Bridge), Arlington; Sage Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, Ganado; San Ysidro Ranch Ruins, Yuma; Second Pinal County Courthouse, Florence; Valley National Bank, 44th Street & Camelback Road, Phoenix; and White Gates House, Phoenix.

The Foundation’s 2006 list is comprised of the Adamsville Ruins, Coolidge; Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, Tucson; First Baptist Church, Phoenix; Fisher Memorial Home, Casa Grande; Geronimo Station, Geronimo; Meehan/Gaar House, Casa Grande; Mesa Grande Ruins, Mesa; Mountain View Black Officers Club, Sierra Vista; Peter T. Robertson Residence, Yuma; Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, Casa Grande; and Sun Mercantile Building, Phoenix.

Republic advocates for adaptive reuse

In the May 25, 2008 Arizona Republic, a full-page editorial, Preserving our sense of place,” advocates for the widespread consideration and use of “adaptive reuse,” the process of adapting old buildings for new purposes without damaging the historic integrity of the structure.  Five central Phoenix buildings are highlighted as examples of what is or could be accomplished: ca. 1905 Phoenix Seed and Feed Co. and 1929 Sun Mercantile Building (both in the Warehouse District), 1930 First Baptist Church and 1931 Professional Building (both in downtown), and the original Smitty’s at 16th St. and Buckeye.

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.

Trail-blazing Asian-American journalist and reporter of Sun Merc story dies unexpectedly

On the evening of March 5, 2006 Sam Chu Lin collapsed after landing at the Burbank  Airport and did not recover.  Cause of death is pending an autopsy.  Sam was one of the first and most well-known broadcast journalists of Chinese heritage. His tenure at CBS was successful and long (including a stint as anchor and reporter for KOOL-TV in Phoenix), and blazed a path for many Asian-Americans who succeeded him.  Never stopping and always inquisitive, he was a valuable resource for many organizations.  A great friend of the Asian-American community, Sam will be sorely missed and sympathy is expressed to his mother, brother Paul, wife Judy, and their two sons. (Additional coverage of Sam’s life at websites of Fox 11 Los Angeles and San Jose Mercury News.)

According to Barry Wong, chair of the Save SunMerc Coalition, Sam was a friend and advocate of the effort to preserve Sun Merc and establish an Asian-American museum.  During the last several weeks Sam spent many hours researching and learning about the Coalition’s efforts for a story he wrote and was published in several national Asian print and electronic media.  Barry knew Sam for a number of years, but it was through many phone conversations these past several weeks did Barry get to know Sam better, personally and professionally.  Sam was truly dedicated to the Asian-American community, was a caring person, and a first class journalist.  Through his Sun Merc reporting he wanted to help the Sun Merc cause, but was careful not to appear biased, especially as an Asian-American journalist.  While he went through great lengths to write a balanced story, he was hopeful a positive outcome would occur in small part because of the information he conveyed.  Sam told Barry that he wanted to be present at the museum’s official opening.

Interior photo of Sun Merc (Arizona Republican, April 9, 1929)

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.