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Looking past the North Building located next to Phoenix Center for the Arts.EXPAND
Looking past the North Building located next to Phoenix Center for the Arts.
Lynn Trimble

Latino Cultural Center Project Faces New Hurdle in Phoenix

Phoenix city officials will tour three sites this week as part of ongoing efforts to create a Latino Cultural Center. The sites include a vacant building next to Phoenix Center for the Arts, located in the Roosevelt Row arts district. But there’s another group that wants the building, which could further complicate the Latino Cultural Center project.

The Phoenix Music Coalition, composed of the Phoenix Center for the Arts and several additional arts groups that offer musical programming, is also interested in the vacant North Building. Those groups include Cultural Coalition, which is headed by Carmen Guerrero. Guerrero wants the city to choose another site for the Latino Cultural Center, and consider a coalition proposal for using the North Building.

The Latino Cultural Center project is already plagued by complications, including a significant delay in moving from idea to implementation. The city launched its Latino Cultural Center project in 2009. So far, it’s spent $70,000 on consulting services, but has yet to choose a location or create a plan for center operations. The report found that building a new center could cost up to $4.5 million; renovating a smaller existing space would take $1.8 million.

The city had nearly $1.4 million to work with in 2009. The funds came from a 2001 bond designated for a downtown arts space called Museo Chicano. But the museum closed in 2009, and the city decided to use the bond money for a Latino Cultural Center instead. Today, there’s just under $1 million set aside for making it happen. But the effort has been episodic, at best.

Council member Michael Nowakowski, whose district includes the former Museo Chicano site, has long spearheaded the Latino Cultural Center project. Currently, he co-chairs a Latino Cultural Center ad hoc committee with city council member Felicita Mendoza. That committee is touring the three city-operated buildings this week as possible sites for the Latino Cultural Center.

Looking west on Third Street toward Phoenix Center for the Arts (left) and the North Building.EXPAND
Looking west on Third Street toward Phoenix Center for the Arts (left) and the North Building.
Lynn Trimble

Turns out, they’re not the only ones paying close attention.

The committee will tour Burton Barr Central Library, Grant Park, and the vacant North Building on Wednesday, May 15. The city explored possible uses for the North Building back in 2016. Officials invited community groups to submit proposals for using the building, but never took action on those proposals.

Those groups included Phoenix Center for the Arts/Phoenix Music Coalition, which is still interested in the North Building. Guerrero wants the city to create an all-new, state-of-the-art Latino Cultural Center, rather than housing the center in the vacant building. And she wants the city to consider the North Building proposals it received in 2016.

After the city issued a Request for Information for the North Building in June 2016, it received three proposals – from Phoenix Center for the Arts/Phoenix Music Coalition, Chicanos Por La Causa, and the Drug Elimination Family Awareness Program, which is part of the Fiesta Mexicana Dance Company. The latter two groups submitted proposals focused on Latino culture.

To this day, none of those proposals has been evaluated, according to Inger Erickson, who heads the city’s parks and recreation department. But that’s not what should have happened, according to language in that Request for Information, which called for proceeding to the more formal Request for Proposals or Request for Qualifications  process after the initial Request for Information.

Those requests typically end with a city contract for one of the proposers. The Parks and Recreation Board never authorized issuing requests for proposals or qualifications for the North Building.

Now, Guerrero is calling for the city to make that happen. “All the city needs to do is allow an RFQ to be published,” she says.

City staff briefed the Parks and Recreation board on the three North Building proposals in September 2016. In October 2016, Phoenix City Council approved hiring a consultant to conduct a Latino Cultural Center needs assessment and feasibility study. A few months later, in March 2017, staff told the board it would be “prudent for Parks and Recreation to coordinate with the consultant if the North Building is recommended for this use.”

Turns out, Gallardo’s report did not recommend that the North Building become a Latino Cultural Center, which means the Requests for Information should have been evaluated. The staff’s own report to the board put it this way, on March 23: “If not recommended as a cultural center, staff will evaluate the proposals that have been submitted after the conclusion of the study.”

Gallardo issued her report in October 2017. Still, the three Requests for Information were never considered. And Erickson continued to tell the Parks and Recreation board that the North Building was a possible site for the cultural center.

“The city is currently evaluating locations for the Latino Cultural Center and this location is still under consideration for that use,” she wrote in a February 22, 2018, report.

But who was evaluating those locations, and how, isn’t clear. Phoenix New Times reached out to Nowakowski's office, but has not heard back.

“These are the three sites that have been considered historically,” according to Mitch Menchaca, director for the city’s office of arts and culture since December 2018.

However, they’re not the only possible locations for a Latino Cultural Center, he says. The committee is still discussing whether to build a new center or work with an existing space.

It's all become a decade-long source of significant frustration for some.

“I don’t have any faith in the city,” Guerrero says. “We’re tired of waiting.”

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