ECCA meeting focuses on proposals for historic Knipe House and nearby properties

(Courtney Pedroza/DD)
City officials hope to better collaborate with the community while they deliberate on the future of the Knipe House and surrounding properties, located on Second Street near Roosevelt Street. (Courtney Pedroza/DD)

By Kimberly Koerth and Sophia Kunthara

The Evans Churchill Community Association meeting Wednesday focused on the issues surrounding the proposed plans for the Leighton G. Knipe House and nearby properties.

The city-formed evaluation panel selected Roosevelt Housing Associates’ proposal out of four options at the end of September. “The Row” would feature apartments, live/work studios and street-level offices. The Knipe House would be converted into a craft brewery and restaurant operated by the Portland-based Pints Brewing.

But shortly before a regularly scheduled Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee meeting on Nov. 6, the city withdrew the evaluation panel’s recommendation from the agenda, citing community concerns.

The main complaint from the community was that RHA’s housing was income- and age-restricted. This would allow RHA to receive housing tax credits, but many said it would shape the future identity of the community.

“We should always have a place at the table for the artists who made that area,” said MonOrchid gallery owner Wayne Rainey, who also submitted a proposal.

Community and Economic Development Deputy Director Scott Sumners said the reasoning behind the decision to take the recommendation off the agenda was twofold. First, city officials wanted to seek more direct community opinions on the proposals, an action some community members argued hadn’t been done adequately yet. The city also wanted to use the time to “finalize business terms” with RHA.

“We are not starting over in this process, and we are not negotiating with all the proposers,” Sumners said in an interview last Thursday. “The city is negotiating exclusively with the proposer that was recommended by the evaluation panel, which is RHA.”

Community and Economic Development Director John Chan explained at the Wednesday meeting that the evaluation panel’s chosen proposal was pulled from the subcommittee’s meeting agenda because the community — specifically four individuals — was concerned about the idea of senior housing coming to an expanding, active arts district.

Chan said removing the proposal from the meeting agenda allows the city to clear up misconceptions about RHA’s proposal, specifically misconceptions about the age-restricted housing being a place for less-active senior citizens.

“I believe there are some misconceptions about what that project would be and so I think we want to allow for time and dialogue with the development team, because they built similar projects,” Chan said. “So I think this is an opportunity for the community to have a good understanding about what the proposed development is.”

A sketch of Roosevelt Housing Associates' "The Row" proposal, which was selected by the evaluation panel for approval by the Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee. (City of Phoenix public records)
A sketch of Roosevelt Housing Associates’ “The Row” proposal, which was selected by the evaluation panel for approval by the Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee. (City of Phoenix public records)

The similar projects that Chan referenced are in Tempe and Mesa. Members of the RHA team completed a similar development in downtown Tempe that received an award for environmental excellence and have another project in progress in downtown Mesa. Both of those developments are considered senior housing; they, like “The Row,” are age- and income-restricted, a model RHA has found to be successful.

Dorina Bustamante, a member of the ECCA board of directors and project lead for the Ro2 lot pop-up park, emphasized that the community is not against having senior citizens in the area. However, community members are concerned that all of the events and activities that occur in the area will cause disruption for the seniors and will lead to noise complaints. Should senior housing come to the area, tenants should be aware that they would be in the middle of a very active, lively area, Bustamante said.

“Our neighborhood is not anti-seniors … as long as this community understands that they are going to be in between a First Friday activity and the future of what is strived for Hance Park, which we want to see as a very active, festival environment,” Bustamante said.

Reid Butler, one of the four who submitted proposals, said he was glad to hear that the chosen proposal was withdrawn from the meeting agenda as it gave the community more time to review their options.

“We’d like an opportunity for the communities that are most impacted — Evans Churchill, Roosevelt Row and Hance Park — to slow down and hear about all four proposals and critique them and see if there’s a way to pick the best idea and really create the best idea for this particular area,” Butler said. “Our position would be to slow down, hear from all four proposers and really don’t be in a rush to make this decision. It’s too important of a decision.”

Butler Housing Co. and Rainey Development’s proposal, “Shade on Roosevelt,” included privately financed apartments, micro units, living/work space, parking garages and a rooftop cinema at MonOrchid. The Knipe House would serve as a restaurant, cafe and/or bar operated by Shade Projects.

The other proposals included one from Urban Sol Development, which featured condominiums, retail, parking garages and a grocery store, with no identified tenant. They proposed turning the Knipe House into a Caribbean restaurant, with no operator identified.

The fourth proposal was submitted by Ro2 lot owner Mike Davis’s architecture firm DAVIS. “The RoTwo Residences” included apartments, commercial space and parking garages. There was no specific use for the Knipe House, but the proposal suggested moving the house to another site. The main focus was expanding the Ro2 lot.

Sumner said one of city’s requirements is that proposers accept a 25-year facade conservation easement on the Knipe House. That easement, part of the preservation process, is an agreement that whoever has the property maintains it and leaves it in its current form to maintain as much integrity as possible.

Built in 1909, the Knipe House, located on Portland and Second streets, is the oldest home in the Evans Churchill neighborhood. It was built as a house for the parents of Leighton G. Knipe, an architect who was responsible for buildings such as Tempe City Hall and the Jefferson Hotel.

In 2003, Ro3 LLC was formed in 2003 as a partnership between Rainey and Butler to redevelop land –- including the Knipe House — stretching from Roosevelt Street to Moreland Street and Second Street to Third Street. The project included affordable rental housing for artists, owner-focused condos and townhouses, an art gallery, restaurant, market and large urban park space. However, it fell through and was never developed.

In June 2010, a fire left the Knipe House’s roof, brick walls and wood framing badly damaged. The city called on preservation and architecture firm Motley Design Group to repair the building and prepare it for potential future occupancy.

Bob Graham, principal architect for Motley Design Group, said the building’s restorations are nearly complete and will be completed before the building is turned over to its new owners.

The best use for the building would be to keep the original walls and turn it into a restaurant, office or residence, Graham said.

City officials also spoke at Saturday’s Downtown Voices Coalition meeting. Sumner said they plan to speak with the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corp., as well, before putting the evaluation panel’s recommendation back on the Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment subcommittee’s agenda.

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