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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

The Latino Cultural Center Project Hits a New Snag in Phoenix

After working for years to create a Latino Cultural Center in Phoenix, organizers have hit a snag that could further delay the project. A committee charged with recommending a site for the center made its pick recently, but the Phoenix City Council could decide this week to explore other options.

An ad hoc committee spent months reviewing possible locations. On September 23, it decided to recommend that the city renovate the North Building next to Phoenix Center for the Arts.

The city's parks and recreation board approved that site, with one caveat. Organizers would need to raise sufficient funds for North Building renovations by the end of 2023. Current estimates put renovation costs at about $12 million.

Next, the plan went to the City Council's land use and livability subcommittee.

That’s when things took an unexpected turn.

During that subcommittee meeting on November 20, Councilman Carlos Garcia suggested that the city consider additional locations.

Now, the City Council could decide to revisit the location decision rather than vote to approve the ad hoc committee’s recommendation.

Consultant Evonne Gallardo during a 2017 Latino Cultural Center town hall.EXPAND
Consultant Evonne Gallardo during a 2017 Latino Cultural Center town hall.
Lynn Trimble

It's the latest development in a lengthy process.

Phoenix approved nearly $1.4 million in bond funding for the Museo Chicano in 2001, but funds were shifted to the Latino Cultural Center project after that venue closed in 2009.

The effort has stalled for various reasons over the years, and the city has yet to make it happen.

The project has long been spearheaded by Councilman Michael Nowakowski, by the way. Currently, he co-chairs the Latino Cultural Center ad hoc committee with Vice Mayor Betty Guardado.

The Latino Cultural Center is on the agenda for the City Council meeting on Wednesday, December 4. Instead of voting on whether or not to approve the North Building for the Latino Cultural Center location, council members will consider a broader issue.

They’ll vote on whether to authorize the city manager to locate the center at the North Building “or another site to be determined.” Those sites aren't specified, but they could include private property, according to Mitch Menchaca.

Menchaca heads the city’s arts and culture department, which has been working with the ad hoc committee on the Latino Cultural Center project.

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

So far, the city has focused primarily on city-owned sites located in downtown Phoenix.

If the city chose to purchase privately owned land, it'd have to pay for both the property and the cost of building a new center. But Garcia is considering more than the cost. He wants the center to be situated in a part of Phoenix that has historical significance for the Latino community, where it can play a bigger role in fostering economic development.

Garcia isn't the first person to question the North Building recommendation. Several community members have expressed their opposition to the proposed site during recent Latino Cultural Center meetings.

The City Council will also vote on whether Phoenix should hire a consultant to help raise money for the project. Currently, the city has just $997,902 in bond money to put toward the center.

There are several issues at play, which Menchaca explained during a detailed presentation to the land use and livability committee. “The best way for people to learn about where we are with the project is to watch the online video from that meeting,” he says. The Latino Cultural Center was the first item they discussed.

Odds are, the December 4 vote will have a significant impact on how the project moves forward. City Council meetings are open to members of the public.

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