Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency hosts open houses for new City Center plan

PHOENIX — Three open houses scheduled Thursday through Saturday will allow citizens to see what a renewed city core might look like.

The first in a series of public meetings planned by the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency, the open houses will showcase a revitalized City Center Plan geared toward reviving old buildings and creating a more defined city center.

Marla Cates, Urban Renewal Agency executive director, said the informational sessions are crucial to getting the renewal process started.

"This is one of those projects that is going to take a long time to implement, and we are just now in the initial stages. We're not taking any input this week. We're just starting the conversation and showing residents what could be done," she said.

"I'm anticipating saying, 'Here, take a look at this and think about it for a month, two months, six months.' We'll have another series of meetings where we'll want to ask for suggestions or for ideas on how the plans could be improved.

"It's all very preliminary, but it's a step forward."

Still just a concept, renderings of a proposed city center revival emphasize renewal of the city's couplet area, or two one-way streets, and incorporating a mixed-use downtown with the character of a rural center.

Basic concepts of the City Center Plan include retaining significant buildings and natural features, with the Grange and City Hall buildings as anchors; creating a new street and parking behind existing structures; and providing for a variety of housing sizes for diverse income groups.

Renewal agency board member Chris Henry, owner of Commercial Sign, said he was excited to see how urban renewal could transform the town.

"Really, there is no specific downtown core, so that's something we are in the process of working on," said Henry.

"What a resurrected Phoenix looks like, currently we don't know, but that's why we're having open public meetings ... to find out how folks — business and residents — foresee Phoenix looking in five and 10 years from now."

Cates credits the city with identifying the core of the city and including urban renewal in a comprehensive plan adopted in 1997 and updated in 2002.

"I think the city was wise back in 1997 to put together a plan for the couplet area, which they envisioned as the city center," she said.

"That is the historical core of the community, and it should be a focal point."

Board chair Steve Schulman, a former council member, said renewal has been a long time coming for the town.

"People drive up from the south on (Highway) 99 and they don't even know Phoenix is there," Schulman said.

"This is a 20-plus year project, and anybody who thinks that we're going to be able to just, so to speak, wave a wand and it's transformed is mistaken.

"It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of buy-in from the business side of the community, the political side and from the residents themselves, but we really think it can be done."

The Phoenix Urban Renewal District began levying taxes during the 2007-2008 fiscal year. Since then the district has accumulated $673,000.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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