Sahara Inn, Phoenix

Let’s get the disclosure bit out of the way right up front:

I sit on the board of an organization—the Downtown Voices Coalition—that seeks to improve downtown Phoenix. Among the many things we have done is to advocate with the City on historic preservation issues—including on a building that the City itself owns—and right now is demolishing.

On May 5, I received my occasional missive from the City of Phoenix Public Information Office. It included a list of story pitches. One in particular, the last on the list, caught my eye.

“New Businesses in Old Buildings”

“The city of Phoenix Adaptive Reuse Program is one of the most comprehensive programs in the country to encourage turning older buildings into new businesses. This process is the ultimate in recycling and sustainability, and it helps our economy and offers new amenities for residents. Recent projects include The Parlor, St. Francis Place, America’s Tacos and many others.”

“Contact: Michael Hammett, at 602-495-5405 or”

Demolition, May 12, 2010

All of the examples, of course, are private ventures spread across the City. But what happens when the property is actually City-owned?

Well, we found out about four hours ago. That’s when the heavy equipment moved in and began demolishing the vintage Ramada Hotel, originally known as the Sahara.

Demolition, May 12, 2010

The City gave some reasons for this irreversible action, but it really came down to the short-term need for more parking downtown (for the, you guessed it, City-owned Sheraton Hotel). And the long-term plan? A downtown site for the Arizona State University law school.

Having the law school downtown may be a great idea. But if there is one thing downtown already has plenty of, it’s a wealth of empty lots. Once again, a plan only made sense to powerful interests if it could be sited exactly on the spot where something cool already sits.

Cool? Well, yes. Marilyn Monroe stayed there, among many others. It was built by none other than Del Webb. And the structure itself is—was—a remarkable example of mid-century modern architecture. Hidden beneath some stucco was a change-inducing building, which could have contributed greatly to a bustling downtown, including ASU’s own students.

Phoenix Sheraton: Tall but underparked

This afternoon, though, we’ve got another empty lot, part of an enduring and painful legacy left behind by the City’s current leaders.

Adaptive reuse? Historic preservation? It remains dead last on this City’s list.

For some background—coming too late—here is an article from the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

And here is a great history of a downtown gem.