The Warehouse Tape

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Wilcox, facing unanimous opposition, protests to the end that the morgue should move and the Santa Fe building should be saved.

"I think we've heard from citizens pretty loudly, and if we do put the morgue on Jackson Street, we're losing a base of people," she says.

Before the session adjourns, Stapley asks the county's project manager, Bob Williams, and its hired historical consultant, Debbie Abele, to reaffirm that none of the buildings the county intends to destroy are on the National Historic Register.

"After hearing a lot of mumbling and grumbling, there is still nothing on the jail site or garage site that can't be demolished because of any historic registries," Williams says.

But just because a building isn't listed on the national registry doesn't mean it's right to knock it down. It just means it's legal.

Six years ago, the City of Phoenix declared the entire area in question a historic overlay district, with zoning that would prohibit a private developer from building anything close to the overwhelming 10-story jail and six-story parking garage the county has planned.

But the county doesn't have to abide by the city's laws, just as it doesn't have to abide by the people's wishes.

"We shouldn't second-guess any of this," Stapley tells his cohorts. "We're not in a position where we can go back now."

Sure you can. You haven't knocked down any buildings yet. Keep an open mind. I am. I changed my mind about the morgue after listening to county medical examiner Dr. Tom Keane, who rescheduled his testimony at a murder trial to speak before the supervisors.

Keane convinced me of two things: The county needs a new Forensic Science building, badly, and it needs to be located near the Superior Court, because he has to testify a lot, and his testimony is often delayed by an hour or two that would be wasted if he couldn't walk back to his office and work.

Okay. So compromise.
First, move the jail to the Durango or Lincoln Street site, and put its parking garage underground, if that's possible (we don't know, because the county hasn't thought it out).

Second, convert the Santa Fe building into the new Forensic Science building, which will be by far the least imposing of the three new county structures.

Also, a morgue would complement a resurrected warehouse district much better than a jail or a parking garage, which lack the same macabre cachet--especially if the new morgue were to house a gift shop of Maricopa County Medical Examiner gear, a good idea the county supervisors tossed around, then threw away.

Finally, the county and city should match funds, lure developers, and otherwise work together to renovate the warehouse district into a vital retail and residential zone.

Then Dr. Keane can stop for a latte on his way back to the office from court.

The tape I heard, though, is not encouraging. It sounds as if the county's leaders were treating the warehouse district controversy as a matter of personal pride. Instead of thinking outside the box, they've begun to box themselves into a philosophical fortress.

If they don't get through the walls of their own making, it will be a great shame. I can think of no other issue that so clearly delineates and symbolizes which course this desert metropolis will set in the new millennium.

If the county demolishes those buildings and sweeps away their ashes, Phoenix cannot rise.

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: [email protected]

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse