Thursday, February 4, 2021 / by Juan Grimaldo
The Phoenix City Council unanimously voted in favor of changes that will make way for a high-rise, mixed-use development called The Blue — but the project will not move forward for at least a year.
The project generated controversy between those who wanted to keep the historic preservation of the building intact and those who see the new development as a way to further the mission of one of the stakeholders in the project — the Arizona OIC, which stands for Opportunities Industrialization Center. The council voted to remove the historic preservation overlay on the existing building with an effective date of Feb. 4, 2022, which would prevent the project from circumventing the one-year demolition stay that is usually in effect for buildings with historic designation.
The project is planned to be built inside the existing building, and will remove one wall and the roof.
As part of the plans approved by the council, the proposed height on the building will be lowered to 250 feet, slightly shorter than the nearby Chase Field’s highest point of 255 feet.
The building was supported by many organizations composed heavily of people of color, including the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, the Maricopa County branch of the NAACP and Chicanos Por La Causa. The project was opposed by several speakers and representatives from organizations that are focused on the historic preservation aspect of the existing building.
The developer, Thunderbird Legacy Group, is planning to include ground floor retail and office space, and the OIC will continue to operate out of the building. The OIC is a development partner for Thunderbird Legacy Group. Other firms involved include Polaris Pacific, Gensler, Project Management Advisors, RCLCO and CCBG Architecture Inc.
Six floors of the building will be a 210-key luxury hotel totaling 211,000 square feet. The upper floors will be condominium units, with a total of 200 units totaling 320,000 square feet. The project plan includes two levels of underground parking and four levels of above-ground parking.
Gene Blue, the president and CEO of the Arizona OIC, spoke at the meeting and said the organization has served more than 65,000 people, and in serving those people it served the city of Phoenix. The development will be a way for the OIC to become self-sustaining.
“This project gives us a unique opportunity to help ourselves,” Blue said.
The Arizona OIC opened in 1967 and is part of a network of other chapters that were built out of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Several community leaders from the Black community spoke in favor of the project at the meeting.
The Rev. Warren Stewart, chairperson of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, called the planned project “praiseworthy,” and said it has taken the work of many stakeholders to bring the project together in a successful way.
Karen Hardin, branch president of the Maricopa branch of the NAACP, said that the project will preserve history by focusing on “people rather than bricks and mortar.”
Some members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and other neighborhood associations spoke in opposition to the project, mostly due to the removal of the historic designation.
Several community leaders, including former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, wrote in opposition to the project.
“There is time under established procedures to work with the developer to find a better solution, one that respects the OIC building and the … legal rights of the people of Phoenix,” Goddard wrote in an email to the council. “This is not the time to short circuit the process by delisting, particularly when that action so flagrantly violates preservation standards and practices both of Phoenix and across our nation.”
The Rev. Reginald Walton, spoke in favor of the project, and said it is a “crown jewel to have an African American footprint in the city.”
Walton also said those speaking out against the project for historical reasons were also not among the community that has historically been involved in the OIC.
“People who are not African American are trying to tell an African American group what they can do with their property,” he said during his comments.
Each member of the city council expressed support for the project, which Councilman Carlos Garcia said is an opportunity to celebrate Black excellence during Black History Month.
“These are individuals who have done nothing but give for over 30 years,” Councilman Sal DiCiccio said during the meeting. “When they have the opportunity to do something good for their organization, we should be giving them a hand.”