January 17, 2011

Arizona Centennial Plans for Washington Street

by: Taz Loomans


Arizona’s birthday is just around the corner. On February 14, our state will be turning 99.  Next year, we’ll be celebrating a huge birthday, the Centennial.  With the down economy, all the bad press our state has been getting for SB1070 and most recently the shocking attacks in Tucson, many say that the Centennial is coming at a bad time.  But Karen Churchard, the Executive Director of the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation, says it’s perfect timing.  She believes that this is indeed the perfect time to celebrate the Arizona we love through Centennial celebrations which are already underway.

I interviewed Karen last week about what we can expect for the Centennial celebrations this year and next.  I’ll be posting the interview in 3 parts.  Today’s post is about the State-appointed commissions behind the Centennial and about the evolving plans for Washington Street.

Blooming Rock: Can you tell me a little bit about the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission?

Karen Churchard: Yes, that’s a separate commission from ours.  They’re working on what they call the Legacy Projects.  That commission is more of a historical commission and is made up of the State Historic Preservation Office, Arizona State Parks, Arizona Department of Education, the Attorney General’s Office, the Arizona Historical Society.  This commission is under the state Libraries and Archives Division.  A lot of the people who’re members of (this commission) are historians or professors of historic preservation and so forth.  They were the ones saying five years ago that we needed to start thinking about our Centennial and it would be here before you know it. So they collectively came together and said that their commission would do the Centennial.  They started with the Legacy Projects.

Let’s back up and I’ll tell you where we came in. A little over three years ago, in October 2007, (then) Governor Napolitano called me in (along with) Win Holden from Arizona Highways Magazine and Margie Zimmerman at the time who was Director of (the Office of) Tourism.  I was part of a non-profit tourism alliance working on policy and advocacy for tourism.  And she (Governor Napolitano) said, I’ve been hearing a lot about the Centennial but these groups who have been planning it haven’t really been doing the fund raising side of it and they’re not really doing any events.  They’re really just focused on these (Legacy) projects.

Timing was perfect that we could go to Oklahoma quickly, their centennial was on November 16 of 2007.  So we went out to Oklahoma in the middle of October after we met with the Governor and spent some time with their centennial staff to hear about what they were doing and how much money they raised and all that.  We came back and gave a presentation to the Governor and she chose to set up another commission, the Arizona Centennial Commission, which is the commission I’m working on.  She asked me if I would consider coming to work for the state government and actually organize the Centennial because my background is in events and projects.

So I did and it’s been interesting.  We collaborate and all that, but it’s challenging to have two different groups (working on the Centennial).  Our group is more front and center in terms of corporations and events and that type of thing.  They (the Historical Advisory Commission) are focusing on encouraging communities and nonprofits to do Legacy Projects.  They’ve sanctioned 86 so far and they range from historic preservation to new artwork like murals, a lot of databases, websites where you can see collections of things you haven’t been able to find before. There’s also a quilt project and the commission on the arts has a music composition.  It’s really vast and it’s all individual communities or groups that have gotten the designation (of a Legacy Project).

What we’ve been doing on our side is what we call Signature Projects and Signature Events.  There’s about 20-22 of these that we’ve identified.  We’re actually raising the money for it, producing them and getting the projects going.  And like what the Advisory Commission has done, we took the same concept, but we’re doing a sanctioning of events.  So while they’re sanctioning projects that have a legacy that will live on, we’re sanctioning events that may already exist that are adding a component of history or a brand new event that might be created specifically for the Centennial by an outside organization or community.  We have about 20 events sanctioned so far.  We’re behind because we haven’t been doing this as long as the Historical Advisory Commission.

Blooming Rock: What are the plans for Washington Street for the Centennial?

Karen Churchard: That happened because we were in the right place at the right time.  The local and national American Institute of Architects, the Arizona chapter of the American Society for Landscape Architects, and ASU did a charrette about a vision for the State Capitol, the entire complex.  They worked on that for a few years. There was one charrette group that Will Bruder was the lead on that decided to take it to the next step because they got really excited about it.  So they went out and really started diving into what the Capitol Mall would look like.

They came up with the 2012 Plan 2020 Vision. The idea was to get some of the projects going to revitalize the Capitol Mall area and to get to a certain point by 2012 for the Centennial and by 2020 the entire vision could potentially be realized.  That was a pretty aggressive plan, but it was doable.  It wasn’t tearing down buildings, it was using the buildings we have.  It was, for example, going into the Executive Tower, gutting it and redoing it in a more sustainable, efficient way and in a way to make government work better.  The same thing (was planned) in the senate and the house.  (Other plans were to) maybe go into the Capitol Museum and bring back some functionality of government but still keep the museum and have it be more mixed use.

We adopted that plan as one of our Signature Projects, we tried to move that (vision) forward.  When we started doing it, Governor Napolitano was really excited and her staff was really excited and we were moving along and then everything changed.  The economy (tanked) and Governor Napolitano left, so everything just kind of came to a standstill.

Well during that time, one of the things that kept resonating with me were the trees.  It was a minor piece of the entire plan but part of it was planting a multitude of trees throughout the whole Capitol Mall.  The vision was taking Washington Street and turning it more into a promenade and trying to make it more user-friendly and pedestrian friendly.  So we started to talk about what we could do with minor dollars with the idea of planting some trees and cleaning it up and putting street banners down there.

We were moving down that path and I met with the (Arizona) Department of Transportation (ADOT), and said, I’ve heard you guys have all this Transportation Enhancement money that can’t seem to get used.  The Federal Government was saying if you don’t use this money, you’ll lose it so you need to step it up and get these projects going.   And I said, why couldn’t we do it for Washington Street?  Their answer was, you have no idea what you’re asking us to do because the Centennial is only a year and a half away.  But long story short they said ok, we’ll do it.

What made the process shorter was that rescission money came back from the Federal Government and I don’t really understand the complexities of it but ADOT itself was able to choose what to use the $5 million for and they didn’t have to go through the long (and usual) process.  It’s a good process with the Transportation Enhancement Review Committee and it’s all the right way to go through the process but because of whatever the way this money given back was, they could just say we’re going to use it for Washington Street and the Federal Government just checked the box and said ok.  So that helped us because it became a much faster project. It didn’t come without some disgruntled people though, because the COGs (Councils of Government) go through this very tedious but good process to get approved and this just kind of came out of nowhere.  So it’s been interesting because it’s not quite going the way I’d hoped it would go. There are a few barriers in the way. It’s going, but it’s probably not going to be what we envisioned in our minds.

ADOT made an agreement with the City of Phoenix, because they own the street.  The City of Phoenix has to put in 5.7% of matching funds for the $5 million, which they’ve agreed to do.  They’ve gone through the process of picking a contractor and a landscape architect group.  It’s a design-build project, so it’s going to be built as it’s designed, which is something the City has never done before.  But we’ve got designs and as we’re trying to get these designs approved, they’re holding all these meetings with stakeholders and different public meetings to get input.

Now the input doesn’t quite match what some of the approval organizations want to see.  Funny you should ask me this question actually because as I was driving here I was thinking, I don’t know what they’re doing at this point.  Because there were two designs. There is one design that the steering committee, which the City of Phoenix put together with a bunch of stakeholders that I serve on with Bob Booker of the Commission on the Arts and some others, picked.  But there is another design that has no adverse effect.  So it was a question of do we put in something that all the stakeholders have been saying they want or do you put in the one that doesn’t have that but we know has no adverse effect.  I don’t know what we did. But our backs are pretty much against the wall now to get this going.  Construction needs to start in February.  So they were at that final point of going through the approval process where the Federal Government, DOT an SHPO were saying you’ve got to give us a plan.

Blooming Rock: When you say no adverse effect, what do you mean?

Karen Churchard: From what I understand and having been in the meetings, for them (the State Historic Preservation Office) they look at that as being a historic street.  And they see the palm trees as being part of that historic street.  The palm trees are in both plans, in fact both plans plant even more palm trees to bring back the symmetry because some have died and need to be replaced.  But what a lot of the public was saying is that they wanted shade.  So the plan was to plant shade trees in between palm trees, like palo verdes, pistaches, or elms.  From what I understand, SHPO said that that was an adverse effect.  They think that having the trees planted between the palms takes away from the way street looks right now.

But everyone is saying that if you want this to be a pedestrian friendly street, and you want it to be user-friendly then you have to add shade.  And to have true shade you need to have trees on both sides of the sidewalk, that means between the palms and the other side of the sidewalk.  So that’s been the big debate.  So the trees change the look, but there are also shade structures, there are markers for each county and there will be a tribal marker of some sort along that walkway.  All the sidewalks will be torn up and redone, except the newer sidewalks, they may keep those.  I think they’re going to do stampings (on the sidewalk) that talk about the fact that (all this work) is being done during the Centennial.  So it’ll be nice, regardless of which way we go.  It’s just been interesting because we’re trying to get everyone’s input.  What’s going to happen when people come back and say we wanted trees between the palms, what happened?

Blooming Rock: So it’s all the different departments pulling in different ways?

Karen Churchard: We had to work with the State Department, the Federal Government, and City Government and of course they all want to be transparent, which is fantastic, so they’re going out and getting all this input.  But in the end, if they can’t use the input that they receive, it’s going to be interesting if we get any push back.

Stay tuned for part II tomorrow and part III of my interview with Karen in the upcoming days!

Photo Credit: Washington Street at the Capitol Mall.  Photo from Bridge and Tunnel Club.

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7 Responses

  1. Will Novak says:

    The tree planting project along Washington is a nice idea, but like most things in Phoenix the dream is far too small.

    Doesn’t it occur to anyone in the City or State that it seems a bit odd that the Capitol Mall doesn’t have well, a mall?

    I think the tree plan is good enough for 2012 considering the State is broke, but a much better and more ambitious plan needs to be adopted long term.

    Get rid of all the parking in Wesley Boilin plaza, as it currently stands its nothing more than a well landscaped parking lot.

    Knock over the Senate & House buildings, they’re too small anyhow and obscure the view of the Capitol. Knock over the Executive Tower, its brutalism at its worst and is embarrassing.

    Build a modern state Capitol worth being proud of on the lots bounded by 19th Ave, Adams, Jefferson and the site of the Exec. Tower. Perhaps consider reviving FLW’s design in some capacity on that space.

    Finally, design and build an actual capitol mall! Revive something like this plan from 1969:


    Notice the Mall? Now its likely impossible to extend it all the way to the PHX City Hall area due to all the structures that have been built East of 7th Ave, but it would be nice to have it between Wesley Boilin and 7th Ave.

    Besides the Carnegie Library most of the buildings between Washington and Jefferson in that area wouldn’t be missed, some of the old warehouses could potentially be moved to South of Downtown in the warehouse district if need be.

    The State Mall could have large parallel parking spaces lining it that could be lined with Food trucks which are becoming so popular across the Nation. This way the Capitol Mall area could have plenty of food options during its busy daylight hours with out businesses having high start up costs in the area and having to be open later, they could just serve the daytime Capitol workers.

    Phoenix needs to stop dreaming Albuquerque sized dreams, we’re not a City of that size anymore. Lets start dreaming San Francisco and Boston sized dreams (metro areas we’re similar to in size). Its time to look at plans and say “is this something they’d do in a town like Fresno or El Paso or Albuquerque? If so, maybe its not good enough for us.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Will, great ideas! I wonder what the 2012 Plan 2020 Vision that Will Bruder came up with for the area was like. I think your idea of keeping on working on the capitol mall until a larger vision is achieved and essentially using 2012 as a kick-off, not as the end of our improvements is a fantastic one. Maybe it’s time to restart the charrettes around this area, galvanize support and get the ball rolling on another 2020 plan for the mall.

  2. […] is planning this year and next for our Centennial.  If you missed part I, make sure to catch it here.  I’ll be posting the third and final segment of the interview […]

  3. […] of the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation, Karen Churchard.  If you missed them, make sure to read part I and part II of the interview.  In today’s post, we find out how the Native American and […]

  4. Runningdeer says:

    I would not celebrate with Arizona, as a vetern of this country. I find Arizona to be a communist state with Jan Brew-ha in governor set. She will destroy the econemy completely, and she is turning this state back into being a racest state.

  5. […] Arizona Centennial Plans for Washington Street, 17 January 2011, Blooming Rock. […]

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