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

The council approved the first phase of the demolition -- including the 1921 building -- in December. The second phase, which will include the remaining structures and possibly the pedestrian bridge across Seventh Street, was approved at the April 12 meeting, Sculley says.

Asked why three City Council members told the Arizona Republic recently that they had no idea the industrial arts building -- also known as building 6 in the school layout -- was being razed, Sculley says she didn't read that article carefully. And she says the council members have many items before them each week.

So they simply must have missed the one about bulldozing a 79-year-old structure without giving it a second thought.

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.

Sculley admits she did not realize the building was quite that old. She knows that it was not included on a list of historic buildings derived after an extensive 1980 survey conducted by the city's historic preservation staff.

Copies of electronic messages obtained by the New Times show at least a couple of city staffers raised questions about the building's historic value.

In an October 6 e-mail to Victor Morrison-Vega and Rick Naimark of the Neighborhood Services Division, Cecile Fowler, then acting historic preservation officer, talks about the plans to demolish the city-owned buildings: "Bill tells me that Building 6, at the corner of Taylor and 5th Street is a nice historic building, should have been designated, but is not. I DID share this with Sean. Sounds like they plan to demo it." ("Bill" is an apparent reference to longtime preservation officer Bill Jacobson; staffer Sean McBride is no longer with the city.)

This heads-up apparently went unnoticed.

In a March 23 e-mail to City Manager Frank Fairbanks, Naimark, Morrison-Vega and others, Sculley responds to a media inquiry about the demolition by painting all the buildings there with one brush.

"With the opening of the new court, we are now in the process of asbestos removal and demolition of those old, decrepit, hazardous but NOT HISTORIC buildings," she wrote.

That's odd, Terry Goddard says now, because that particular building and others on the site were perfectly suitable for several city departments to occupy until a short time ago. He says some of those buildings could have been easily adapted for occupancy for a restaurant or office space. And he says he knows developers who might have been interested in turning the land into downtown housing, something city officials say they covet.

Meanwhile, asbestos removal is continuing on the property and the rest of the buildings will gradually come down by the end of the year, according to Sculley. The last to go will be the city-owned Channel 11 studios, which will move to the first floor of the new Adams Street garage.

Don Jackson, president of the PUHS Alumni Association, says his group was shocked to learn the buildings Kaufman still owns that are on the National Register of Historic Places could be torn down, too.

His group has been interested in buying one of those buildings, preferably the administration building at Fifth and Van Buren streets, to turn it into a museum. But he says Kaufman proposed a multimillion-dollar price to them. While they had hoped he might decide to donate it to them, they were surprised to learn that he had filed for the demolition permit.

Now, Jackson says, his group will closely monitor the situation.

"There is no way those buildings are going to be torn down without a huge public outcry involving lots and lots of prominent citizens who are now retired or in big corporations of the Valley who are graduates from Phoenix Union High School," he says. "We will do whatever it takes to mobilize the forces, because they are just too important -- way too important -- to be torn down."

Kaufman says if the city issues him a demolition permit, he would have another year to use it. But one idea -- giving the properties local historic landmark status -- could buy another two or three years before the structure would be razed. The landmark designation is aimed at providing a higher level of protection for historic properties "of exceptional significance."

That would set a precedent. According to Morrison-Vega, deputy director of the Neighborhood Services Department, nothing in Phoenix has ever been declared a city landmark.

And so far, Morrison-Vega says, his suggestion to pursue landmark designation for the PUHS property hasn't gone anywhere. He had hoped that the longer waiting period (three years under the landmark ordinance) would allow more time for someone to step forward with a plan to save the property.

"If nothing has come through in three years, then it's not going to come through," he says.

Sculley says the city has no plans now to condemn and take over Kaufman's property.

"But that could change," she adds.

Meanwhile, Kaufman is moving forward with yet another new business deal, one that presented itself after he applied for a demolition permit. He has joined forces with Tom Gaffney, a Phoenix promoter, and Gaffney's partner, Derreck Manteau, a Washington, D.C., Internet whiz, to convert Union Hall into the Web Theatre, a venue that will offer live acts and transmit them via Internet for pay-per-view digital television viewing.

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