A Capitol Idea

Phoenix Community Alliance's new plan for the Capitol Mall sends the homeless scrambling while the city looks the other way

Martin Shultz's associates say that he has never been shy around power.
A member of the Phoenix Comm- unity Alliance (PCA), a private group of downtown corporate and business leaders, and for the past 20 years the director of governmental relations at Arizona Public Service Company, he cut his political teeth in the 1960s and early '70s as a chief of staff for three Phoenix mayors. He was the marketing director for the Phoenix Suns before they moved downtown. He's as adept at spinning and pitching policies and projects as he is at knowing who to call and when to throw some friendly weight behind a good idea.

"I'll tell you why we're feeling emboldened these days," he says, elbows propped on a small conference table in his 20th-floor office at Arizona Center. "Here we are in the 1998 time frame and people are looking around and saying, 'Ahhh, the ballpark. Ahhh, the streetscape.' And here comes the Collier property.

This new downtown is the fruit of the labor of folks involved with the PCA in the early years. What you see is what we envisioned around here."

The private sector led the way in downtown's revitalization, he says, "because there was no political will. Not one politician said it wasn't doable," he allows. "They just said there was no political will for it, and in their scheme of things, it wasn't a priority."

And that's the way things at City Hall still appear to him and others at the PCA. "So we're going to help them set their priorities by doing something that everybody knows in their gut is the right thing to do. This is the next step in central city development."

The step that he has in mind is the redevelopment of that stretch of dilapidation known as the Capitol Mall. Its name conjures the spacious civic and cultural commons found in Washington, D.C. But the blighted swath that extends from Seventh Avenue to the state Capitol, and from Van Buren Street to the railroad tracks, is more a hole in the heart of the city and state.

From an urban-design standpoint, it is a wasteland of bad, ill-fitting or broken ideas and designs, with a few refurbished historical architectural gems sprinkled amid surface parking and vacant, trash-strewn lots.

Architects have dissed the western end of the mall as an industrial park for civil servants. And they're not far off. Over the past 40 years, the state has stockpiled an estimated 60 percent of the area's land--about 175 acres, according to the state Department of Administration--contributing to the elimination of one of Phoenix's oldest residential neighborhoods.

Yet it is the eastern end of the Capitol Mall that most concerns Shultz and the PCA. The five-block stretch from 13th Avenue to Eighth Avenue along Jefferson, Madison and Jackson streets is the Valley's homeless central.

Its array of social services includes the 400-bed Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) shelter for homeless men and women, the Maricopa County health clinic for the homeless (up to 4,000 patients yearly), the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall (up to 1,000 lunches a day), and the Andre House of Hospitality (500 to 900 dinners daily, job assistance and clothing). Downtown Learning Center has classes and computers for the motivated. Interfaith Cooperative Ministries provides food boxes and other assistance to the poor. Several labor exchanges farm out temporary day labor. And there's a privately run general-delivery post office where most of the area's estimated 500 to 800 homeless people receive monthly checks and food stamps.

Those are just the legitimate enterprises. Police, homeless advocates and local business owners say the area is packed with street-smart drug dealers and predators attracted to the quick-money potential of a cash, crack-cocaine and food-stamp economy. The area's crime rate is among the highest 25 of Phoenix's more than 2,000 crime grids.

"The whole area has really been just a dumping ground," says Mo Stein, an architect who sits on the board of the CASS shelter and heads the housing committee of the PCA. "The attitude for years was the city would say it's not my problem, it's the state's, and the state would say it's not my problem, it's the city's. And the county would say it's not my problem at all. It's been easy to pass the buck. As a result, the area has been relegated to being the social-disease host for our community. We've just thrown everything we don't want to deal with or see down there."

Yet hopes for development spring eternal. The PCA and others see this mess as fertile ground to grow more downtown housing, stores, restaurants and entertainment. They see it as a place for the state to consolidate the nearly 700,000 square feet of office space it leases elsewhere around the city, making the area a one-stop shopping mall of state affairs.

Shultz and Stein say discussions are under way with developers who want to build a housing and entertainment complex at the current site of the Grace Court School, at Eighth Avenue and Monroe. Other developers have approached the PCA about adding two single-room-occupancy hotels for low-income workers downtown.

The PCA is also leading the charge on several other fronts. Each of the past three years, it has provided $50,000 in operating money to the Capitol Mall Association, a neighborhood organization working to revitalize the area. In 1996, the PCA and the Capitol Mall Association convinced the city to create an overlay district on the Capitol Mall, a special zoning classification that prohibits blood banks, pawnshops and package liquor stores, and requires a special permit for any new charitable dining, shelters or other services for the poor.

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