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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

City Moves Closer to Creating Latino Cultural Center at North Building in Roosevelt Row

The proposed Latino Cultural Center is one step closer to becoming a reality in downtown Phoenix after a committee decided to recommend a site to the City Council. They voted to recommend that the North Building at Hance Park become the future site.

The committee, first created in February, met on Monday, September 23, at Phoenix City Hall. The vote followed a presentation by city staff members Alan Stephenson and Christine Mackay, who reviewed four possible sites discussed in previous committee meetings. Stephenson is the director for the city's office of planning and development; Mackay is the director for the city's office of community and economic development.

City staff recommended that the committee choose the North Building, based on several factors, including the fact that renovating an existing building would likely take less time than building a new facility. A brief discussion followed, and members of the public were invited to share their comments. No one spoke in opposition to the plan, despite concerns expressed during previous meetings.

Michael Nowakowski (center) has spearheaded Latino Cultural Center efforts for more than a decade.EXPAND
Michael Nowakowski (center) has spearheaded Latino Cultural Center efforts for more than a decade.
Lynn Trimble

“After 16 years of meeting and planning, I’m glad we’ve finally come up with a location,” says Michael Nowakowski, who co-chairs the Latino Cultural Center committee.

Joseph Benesh has opposed the North Building as a Latino Cultural Center site, in part because he submitted a plan to the city several years ago that proposed using the North Building for a coalition of music-based organizations. At the time, he was the CEO for Phoenix Center for the Arts. Today, he heads an arts advocacy group called Arizona Citizens for the Arts.

Now, Lauren Henschen is CEO for Phoenix Center for the Arts. Nowakowski says members of the Latino Cultural Center committee already have talked with Henschen about possible partnerships, including presenting Latino Cultural Center programming at Phoenix Center for the Arts while the North Building is being renovated.

“They’re open to starting programming now,” Nowakowski says. “We can start that partnership immediately.”

Henschen says the building has been dormant far too long and will help to serve the needs of a rapidly growing community.

"Phoenix Center for the Arts looks forward to a beautified, fully utilized campus and welcomes the opportunity for thoughtful collaboration," she told Phoenix New Times in an email sent shortly after Monday's meeting.

City presentation during the Latino Cultural Center meeting on September 23, 2019.EXPAND
City presentation during the Latino Cultural Center meeting on September 23, 2019.
Lynn Trimble

Transforming the North Building into a new Latino Cultural Center will likely cost at least $12 million, according to city estimates presented during the September 23 meeting. It could take a year to improve basics like the electrical and plumbing systems, and another year to create specific elements such as performance, classroom, and courtyard spaces.

Two subcommittees of the Latino Cultural Center committee will meet in October to address specifics such as center operations and programming, as well as fundraising strategies. The city has just under $1 million set aside for the center, funded through a bond in 2001. Additional funds will likely be sought from multiple sources, including individual and corporate donations.

Of course, it all hinges on getting City Council approval for creating the Latino Cultural Center at the North Building. Mitch Menchaca, executive director for the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, hopes that can happen in another month or so.

Menchaca says he’s feeling relieved now that a site recommendation has been reached. “I feel like a weight has been lifted,” he says. “We’ve made a step in the right direction.”

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