The Latino Cultural Center project is being put on pause as the city of Phoenix addresses challenges posed by COVID-19. It’s the latest setback for the project, which has been nearly two decades in the making.
The city approved nearly $1.4 million in bond funding to renovate and expand a downtown museum of Chicano culture in 2001 but redirected those funds to launching a Latino Cultural Center after the museum closed in 2009.
Most recently, efforts have centered around an ad hoc committee created in February 2019. The committee held a virtual meeting on April 27, which included a presentation by Mitch Menchaca, who heads the city’s office of arts and culture.
Menchaca suggested the pause, citing the difficulty of raising funds during a public health crisis, and the committee agreed. Ultimately, the decision will go before the city council for formal approval.
The move follows more than a year of planning centered on finding a specific location for the center and exploring ways to raise needed funding. Preliminary studies showed creating a center could cost up to $12 million, which means the bond money won’t be sufficient.
After considering several sites, the committee recommended that the city transform the North Building at Phoenix Center for the Arts into a Latino Cultural Center. City council approved the recommendation last December and authorized the city to hire a development consultant to work on fundraising strategies.
The council also approved creating a fund through the Arizona Community Foundation, which would give individual donors, corporations, foundations, and other organizations a way to donate money towards the Latino Cultural Center project.
For now, both creating that fund and hiring the consultant are on hold.
The Latino Cultural Center committee is working to document its current progress in the hopes that it will help the city move the project forward at a later date. Menchaca’s office is drafting a report that the committee will review in May so it can suggest final edits. Then the final report will go to the city council.
The report will address several aspects of the Latino Cultural Center project — including location, programming, operations, and fundraising. As it’s currently conceived, the city would operate the center for the first five years, then turn operations over to a non-profit organization or collective.
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It’s the second report prepared in recent years. In 2017, a consultant hired by the city released the results of a feasibility study that included gathering input from community members. The current committee adopted several recommendations from that report, including locating the center in downtown Phoenix and focusing on programming currently not provided by other Latino arts organizations.
The city will have at least two pieces of information to work with moving forward. On February 18, the architecture firm Gensler completed an assessment of the likely cost to transform the North Building into a Latino Cultural Center, noting that it could range from $8 to $13 million (including the cost of furniture, fixtures, and equipment). The city is now working on assessing the current value of the building.
It will be up to city council to decide when and how to resume the Latino Cultural Center project. Today, the city has just $997,902 in bond funds available to launch the center. And it has a deadline. If sufficient funds aren’t raised by December 31, 2023, the parks and recreation department can reconsider its approval for turning the North Building into the Latino Cultural Center.
Despite the latest setback, council member Michael Nowakowski, who co-chairs the Latino Cultural Center committee, is optimistic. “The pandemic has broken our hearts in so many ways, but we have a commitment from the city council that we will have a Latino Cultural Center,” he says. “We’re just not sure when that will be.”