Jim Kaufman's Bottom Line

The cryptic savior of historic downtown structures says he'll raze his classic PUHS buildings before he'll lose his investment

In 1991, he purchased the Professional Building at 15 West Monroe Street for $650,000. Sometimes called the Valley Bank Annex building, the 12-story property is "an architectural treasure," he says. He considered putting loft apartments into it but never moved on that plan. He did sign two key tenants on the lower floor -- McDonald's, which opened its first downtown restaurant there, and Focaccia Fiorentina, a quality pasta house for the time-pressed working crowd. He sold the building in 1996 to Noel Heller, who at first planned to convert it into a hotel but is now trying to revive the residential plans as part of a mixed-use project. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Two years later, Kaufman bought the Chamber of Commerce Building at 44 West Monroe in a trustee sale for $1.9 million. The 10-story building that once housed the chamber includes a parking garage that spans the block to Van Buren Street. He also owns some property south of Fillmore between First and Third avenues to serve as parking for potential tenants. Kaufman is trying to sell or lease the chamber building now.

Over the years, Kaufman has also contributed to the downtown landscape in other ways. He jokes that his first "free lunch" with Turley and the group that became the Phoenix Community Alliance has cost him about $40,000 in voluntary dues since then. And he has contributed substantial amounts to the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, which has mandatory memberships among public- and private-property owners. Annual assessments (to the tune of $1.63 million this year) are made based on a square-footage-based formula.

The Orpheum Theatre, anostalgic reminder of Phoenix's days gone by, might have been demolished had it not been for the actions of Jim Kaufman.
The Orpheum Theatre, anostalgic reminder of Phoenix's days gone by, might have been demolished had it not been for the actions of Jim Kaufman.
The Orpheum Theatre, a nostalgic reminder of Phoenix's days gone by, might have been demolished had it not been for the actions of Jim Kaufman.
Paolo Vescia
The Orpheum Theatre, a nostalgic reminder of Phoenix's days gone by, might have been demolished had it not been for the actions of Jim Kaufman.

Margaret Mullen says Kaufman once was among the top 10 landowners in that group, paying a big chunk of the budget. He has since sold some property and new projects have been built, edging him out of the top-contributor list. (Jerry Colangelo, who pays the dues on America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark, is at the top of the contributor list now. Rouse Company, which built the Arizona Center on city-owned land; Bank One; and the Barron Collier Co., which is erecting the massive Collier Center at First and Washington streets, are also top contributors.)

Downtown Phoenix Partnership Executive Director Brian Kearney says Kaufman has been a key, influential player in downtown redevelopment.

"He clearly has a knack for identifying key properties and knowing ultimately where they're headed," Kearney says.

Kaufman's membership contributions have helped the partnership accomplish its ongoing mission -- providing security, traffic and parking management and marketing and economic development functions in a contract with the city. (Phoenix pays no extra fee for these services other than the annual assessments as a downtown property owner.)

He also helped foot about $300,000 of the $9 million bill for the 1996 Downtown Streetscapes beautification project. About $4.1 million was paid by property owners in that program, bringing new purple lanterns and benches, among other things, to downtown.

Mullen says Kaufman has had additional, less tangible influence. She says he was very involved when her group helped get all of downtown rezoned, complete with new design guidelines and standards.

"Jim was very helpful in that process and very instrumental in it. The same thing with parking codes. There is always a struggle. There's one side of the community that thinks we built too much parking downtown and there's another side of the community that thinks we didn't build enough parking, and the arts and cultural entities suffer because of it," she says. "And Jim has always been a very positive force in getting people to talk about the issue and getting them to identify very specifically what their concern is."

Terry Goddard is also passionate about downtown and about historic preservation. That's why he nearly came unglued when he drove by the Phoenix Union High School property a few weeks ago and saw the industrial arts building being demolished.

He called Jim Kaufman.

Kaufman told him what isn't common knowledge: that he sold the northern eight acres of land to the city in December 1996 for $17.5 million (nearly $11 million of that was in planned lease payments and $6 million was from Civic Plaza funds) and that officials decided to tear down the existing buildings for the proposed Civic Plaza expansion project. And that there was really nothing he could do.

When city officials and Kaufman could not reach an agreement for the city to buy the remaining four acres of the parcel by a December 31, 1999, deadline, Kaufman says he took the necessary protective step: filing for a demolition permit. At risk are the administration building, circa 1911; the soon-to-be renamed Union Hall, built in 1912; the 1911 science building; and the 1921 liberal arts building.

Assistant City Manager Sheryl Sculley says the city's plans for the northern part of the school property have not been kept secret. Indeed, city records show that staff asked the council for permission to proceed with demolition in November. A staff report says improving the buildings for new tenants would require $25 million to $45 million in structural repairs and environmental-hazard abatement. An alternative, to merely fence and abandon the buildings, would create an eyesore and safety hazard, the report said. The council chose the third option, which was to use $3.34 million in Civic Plaza bond funds to demolish the structures.

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