A Capitol Idea

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

And the PCA has partnered with the Joint Urban Design Program at ASU's downtown center and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to produce key studies of the mall.

But advocates for the Valley's estimated 8,000 to 12,000 homeless people have begun to ask whether PCA's vision includes downtown's poor and the agencies that serve them. In Phoenix, as elsewhere, urban renewal has usually begun with urban removal. And the revitalized core between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street has been no exception. Many downtown planners, including some PCA members, contend that the deterioration of the Capitol Mall can be partly attributed to the exclusive--and exclusionary--character of the downtown core's resurgence.

The mall became the place where unwanted or unappetizing elements of civic life were pushed by $2 billion of public and private investments in Civic Plaza, America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark, Arizona Center, the Science and History museums and other improvements.

"The fact is that we just pushed the poor right out of downtown," says Mo Stein. "Now we have to knock on their door and say, 'You have to be part of the solution,' because a lot of these people take tickets at the ballpark. They work at the arena and clean and serve at the hotels."

Beyond questions about the PCA's intentions lies a larger concern about the role of government; in particular, will the city play a more active part this time around in addressing the profound public-policy implications--in the areas of housing and human and neighborhood services--of downtown revitalization?

Those questions have taken on new urgency in recent months. In September, the PCA summoned the heads of the area's key social-service agencies--Andre House, St. Vincent de Paul and CASS--to a meeting and told them that the time had come for the organizations to develop plans to reduce services or leave the area.

"Basically, they gave us an ultimatum," says Nancy Spencer, president of the board of St. Vincent de Paul. "They told us we were on a potential collision course if our organizations continue to serve as we do. They want us to cut our meals in half. They have threatened to condemn us and demolish us and get us out of there, because they want their grandiose plans to go forward."

Donald Keuth Jr., president of PCA, says "ultimatum" is too harsh a word, and that no threats have been made.

"I'd call it more of an alert," Keuth says. "What we're trying to say is things are changing. There's development that's going to occur there. And when that development comes, typically what happens is the new tenants start putting pressure on the city to clean up the area. Then the city's forced to make an ultimatum."

Shultz says that ultimatum might mischaracterize what the PCA delivered. "But it's true that we've stepped to the plate, and when you consider the failures of the past, I don't think there's any substitute for being clear."

What he's clear about is that because the Capitol Mall is in a designated redevelopment area, the city has the power of eminent domain to condemn properties that lie in the path of urban progress.

In the past quarter-century, the city has used that power to raze the old downtown and build the new one. Shultz says he expects, but hasn't yet asked, the city to drop that hammer on some parts of the Capitol Mall. He says the old Seventh Avenue Hotel, a haven for low-income people at Seventh Avenue and Washington Street, is in the PCA's plans for demolition.

But he says the PCA's posture toward the social-service agencies has been, "Why not be smart about it and plan ahead for what will be an inevitable situation?"

Shultz and Keuth believe that new development can co-exist with a substantially reduced level of homeless services.

But some homeless advocates question the PCA's real aims. They recall that when St. Vincent de Paul sought the city's permission to replace its eyesore of a dining hall at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street with a smaller facility, the PCA lobbied against it. The proposed dining hall would have provided indoor queuing--a goal of the overlay district rules--and landscaping for the street.

But in a 1997 letter to David Richert, director of Phoenix's Planning Department, the late Barry Starr, then-president of the PCA, warned that St. Vincent de Paul's plans were "in direct conflict with the objectives and goals of the renewal efforts." The city denied St. Vincent de Paul's request for a zoning variance to build the proposed improvements, ruling that the facility didn't provide sufficient parking for its primarily walk-in customers.

"It's pretty clear that they really don't want us here," says Father John Dougherty, the young Catholic priest who runs Andre House. "All you have to do is look at their map. We're not even on their map."

The map in question accompanies the PCA's recent Heart of the City report, a glossy promotion for downtown development. Whether by oversight or wishful thinking, it depicts the five-block concentration of social services that exist between Seventh and 13th avenues south of Jefferson as a blank slate--no Andre House, no St. Vinnie's, no CASS shelter, or Downtown Learning Center, Interfaith Cooperative Ministries or county health clinic--nothing to stand in the way of a revitalization that nearly everyone agrees is long overdue.

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