As soon as it became clear a couple of months ago that Mayor Terry Goddard was abandoning the Municipal Center project, I phoned Ed Wundram.
Wundram is the professional adviser who in 1985 oversaw our much-touted international design competition for a monumental building complex to house city government on the west end of downtown. It was out of this competition that prominent architect Barton Myers' scheme of ornate buildings emerged and was then held high in the arms of Terry Goddard, who wanted praise for luring an architect of Myers' stature to the desert. In those days, whenever Goddard spoke of the Municipal Center, he was like a flushed new father showing off his first baby.
More than three years later, after $3.5 million of city money has been shoveled out for Myers' fees and other project costs, Goddard has turned his back on his brain child as passively as though he has simply forgotten to pick it up at the baby sitter's. A half step at a time, he has turned his attention to the new City Center concept, a mixed-use project that's being considered for the heart of downtown. Saying that his vision for signature city government buildings has turned out to be too expensive, Goddard now plans for the city to become a tenant in the City Center, which will be privately developed.
So I asked Wundram, "What will the world of architecture and design think of Phoenix now? Will we be laughed at because we held a huge design competition and then neglected to build the winning project?"
"I don't think it will have a negative impact," Wundram said. "It would if you were some design-conscious city, but no one says Phoenix is the high temple of architecture."
In other words, it's hard to sink any lower than laughingstock.
Wundram added that it's not unusual for cities to hold competitions and then back out of winning projects as soon as the real costs have been calculated. What is unusual--what he has never heard of before--is for a city to take more than three years to decide its dream is unaffordable and to chalk up exorbitant design costs all along the way.
Ah, but enough has been said in these pages in recent weeks about Mayor Terry Goddard's talent for blighting the city's future by exercising leadership so vague that it creates wholly original scenes of disaster. I don't want to harp further on the man's failings.
What I want to do is point out the possibilities being proposed for the new City Center, so that Goddard will know someone is watching.
Even if, wishing to save itself a little agony, the world doesn't keep its eye on Phoenix design trends, the mayor should understand that the decisions being made about downtown do matter to some of the locals. And if the brave new plans in the works blow up in our faces, as did the beautification of Central Avenue, or appear in the end to have been intended for a subterranean species, like Patriots Square, we will know who to blame.
The developers' proposals for the new City Center are in, and they are heavy. And there are so many of them that they crowd the long table where they lie. These proposals are as diverse as the nature of the world, but they have one thing in common: Nobody wants to build on the land several blocks west of Central where the Myers project was to stand. They want what is referred to among developers as the "next-best corner" of downtown--a four-block plot from Madison to Washington and CentralMDRV to Second Street. (Some of the proposals enlarge on this plan, but these four blocks are the core.)
The developers' preference was predictable, but it is also the final evidence that Goddard knew the Myers project was dead long before he admitted it. When the request for proposals went out from the city about three months ago, Goddard was still earnestly mouthing off that it was premature to declare the Municipal Center was already just a memory. The developers would be offered a choice of sites, and the original one would be included, he said. Who knew what the developers might want to do? he asked.
Well, everyone knew, but Goddard didn't want to say out loud what they knew--that the developers would choose the site closest to downtown's new hubbub, since foot traffic will feed the success of their retail operations. That developers couldn't care less about the governmental mall concept--long planned as an avenue of grand buildings housing all the community's bureaucrats and stretching to the capitol from downtown--that the Myers project was meant to anchor.
Oh, how Goddard shrank from the responsibility of sounding the death knell of the Municipal Center. He wanted the news to sidle up behind us like a shadow. He left it up to the developers, the real leaders of Phoenix, to tell us a decision had been made. Well, now they have.