Owners of the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix debuted on Wednesday a roughly $18 million renovation of the former hotel that's now used for affordable housing.
Major changes include restoring a historic fountain, adding a lightning-suppression system and updating the infrastructure of hundreds of units in a nearly 90-year-old building.
State and local leaders said the re-opening preserves options for low-income tenants to live an urbanizing city center, while recognizing a piece of Phoenix's history. The funding came from a $44 million refinancing project completed in 2015 that involved a variety of public agencies and private partners.
The 1928 building — topped with a red-and-white antennae — is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 16-story tower houses nearly 300 people, who are primarily elderly or have disabilities.
An 18-month renovation period was inconvenient for them, said Jonathan Bentz, vice president of acquisitions and development for Cathedral Development Group Inc., which owns the building through an affiliate. All tenants remained on site, but some had to temporarily move rooms or couldn't access their apartments at times, he said.
Now, though, improved plumbing and electricity make the units more efficient, Bentz said. A renovated courtyard and fountain pay homage to the former hotel's splendor.
“We really feel like the building is on the path to shine for the next 25 or 30 years,” Bentz said.
Owners completed the last major renovations on the building in the early 2000s, Bentz said.
This time, crews renovated aging plumbing, windows and elevator electrical systems. Top-floor residents who used to have to wait for hot water now receive it an instant, Bentz said.
A new lightning-suppression system aims to better protect a building with an antennae prominent in the Phoenix skyline. The site was safe before, but the addition will divert lightning if it's ever hit, Bentz said.
And for the first time in decades, the historic fountain in the building's courtyard is operable. The re-opening offered a rare chance to see a building normally closed to the public.
“It just gives that visual pop to the whole thing,” Bentz said.
Part of the budget also went to accommodating residents, who were either displaced during daytime hours or temporarily moved during construction, to make the transition "as seamless as possible," Bentz said.
Resident DeLores Callahan, who turns 73 this month, said she moved into the building in January and wasn't disrupted by the construction. She said she appreciates the history of the Westward Ho — particularly the ornate lobby and courtyard.
"The tile, especially, is mouth-watering," Callahan said.
The changes follow historic guidelines for the building. In its heyday, the hotel hosted some of Phoenix's most elite visitors.
Both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan paid visits before their presidencies. Paul Newman once threw a TV off a balcony there in a film. Jackie Gleason, Liberace and Wayne Newton were among hotel performers, according to the owner.
Now, it's home to income-qualified tenants, with preference given to seniors. Arizona State University recently moved into the ground floor of the building to offer them health and social services.
In September, the university opened a clinic, office and event space called Collaboratory on Central. ASU is renting roughly 15,000 square feet that previously was vacant.
Callahan called the students a "godsend." She said she participates in programs as often as possible, including a group for women focusing on personal security.
The Westward Ho is a vast improvement from the unsafe places she was living before, Callahan said.
"It's very nice living downtown," she said.