The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday voted to delay the destruction of buildings at least 50 years old, a move sparked by the partial demolition of the downtown Circles building this spring that caused outrage in the community.
Hours before the council vote, the developer of the partially demolished structure and a Roosevelt Row neighborhood group struck a deal that could mean the preservation of much of the remaining building, as well as $3 million for saving other historic buildings throughout the city.
The deal could also pave the way for a proposed $70 million apartment tower at the site to get a city tax break worth millions.
The council voted 7-2, with council members Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring opposing, to require a 30-day delay in issuing demolition permits for commercial buildings 50 years or older, as well as for any structure identified as eligible for protection. Plans for such demolitions would come with an extra fee, to be voted on at a later date, and requirements to make sure community and preservation leaders are alerted.
"The new, stricter public-notification standards for demolitions of older structures ... will prevent 'stealth' demolitions of buildings that hold a special place in the fabric of our neighborhoods," Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, who supported the policy, said in a statement after the vote.
Preservationists had sounded alarms about a rapid succession of losses of older buildings recently.
A delay gives at least some leverage back to those who want developers to consider alternatives before swinging the wrecking ball. The delay takes effect 30 days after it is signed by Mayor Greg Stanton.
The Circles Discs and Tapes building, which opened as the Stewart Motor Co., was for many the defining symbol of development run amok at the expense of the city's architectural history, but the deal struck with the neighborhood group Tuesday is a significant departure from that.
The Roosevelt Action Association agreed to support developer Aspirant’s plans for a 19-story tower project, called the Stewart, in exchange for the preservation money, promises to keep more of the building and commitments to public art.
Phoenix had stopped negotiating with Aspirant for a Government Property Lease Excise Tax or GPLET when the partial teardown happened in April. That tax break would allow the developer to skip paying property taxes for as long as 25 years.
"Many people were upset by the early demolition, so it’s been a difficult process,” said Roosevelt Action Association President Sherry Rampy. “But I don’t think this sets a precedent of a neighborhood group holding a developer hostage.”
After the deal was reached Tuesday, she sent a letter to the Phoenix City Council saying her group voted to support Aspirant’s new plans and asking for the city to “re-engage” in the tax-break discussions for the tower.
She said if a tax-break agreement isn't reached with the developer, it could “scrape the rest of the building” and leave downtown Phoenix with a prominent vacant lot for several more years.
Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski, whose district includes the site, supports both an agreement between the developer and neighborhood association and the new plan to slow any demolition of historic buildings.
"Sometimes you don't get everything you want, but you can find common ground," he said. "It's not a win for the developer or a win/win for the community, but Phoenix gets to keep an icon with the Circles building and get funding for more historic preservation."
Though the building has no historic designation, it meets the criteria for a local and national listing, according to the city's Historic Preservation Office.
What the agreement calls for, according to a letter from Aspirant to Rampy:
Republic reporter Dustin Gardiner contributed to this article.