668 North, LLC recently purchased the mostly vacant former Chinese Cultural Center on 44th Street south of the 202 Freeway in order to establish a new headquarters and campus for approximately 350 of its 12,500 employees and team members. The new corporate headquarters is the latest investment near Phoenix’s light rail line, expected to have a notable economic impact for the city according to Valley economist Jim Rounds, who is currently compiling a detailed report on the move.
Despite strong Arizona laws governing private property rights, some have objected to the company’s plans in spite of a commitment to revitalize the 170,000 square foot space, preserve major elements on site and relocate others. Many of the state’s private property rights are enshrined in Proposition 207, a statewide, voter-approved measure that was passed by a nearly 2-1 margin over a decade ago. On behalf of 668 North, LLC the law firm of Gammage & Burnham recently communicated to the City of Phoenix the numerous problems with infringing on these and other rights. 668 North, LLC is not seeking any city entitlements or tax incentives as part of its redevelopment.
The cultural center, built in 1997, has significantly struggled for many years with numerous failed businesses and very low occupancy. Today only six percent (6%) of tenants are Chinese-related and the center overall is only 26% occupied. Over the last 20 years, both historical anchor tenants, a grocery store and large restaurant, went into bankruptcy. They were reopened and run for many years by the landlord at a loss. Additionally, there hasn’t been a Chinese New Year festival held at the site since 2012. As community and financial support for the site continued to decline, the prior owner – a large Chinese company – decided to sell the property. That owner provided assurances that the site has been largely abandoned by the Chinese community and that no restrictions of any kind were being placed on the site which would impede redevelopment.
While the new owner plans to renovate the building, in the spirit of working with the Chinese Community, it has offered several different options during talks with community leaders over the past few weeks. Despite offering numerous creative solutions, the people interested in preserving the site have been unable to reach any agreement amongst themselves, which has complicated a path forward.
PRESERVATION CONCEPTS PROPOSED BY THE OWNER
1) Numerous people and organizations have asked for the preservation of the block long garden along 44th Street. Though preservation of this garden would be expensive, the property owner is open to doing so as well as making it available to the public during normal business hours.
2) Approximately two dozen Chinese sculptures, signs and structures can be preserved and optionally relocated, along with excess tiles, roofing or artistic elements desired by recipients.
3) The owner of the property also possesses approximately 10 palettes of unused green and yellow roof tiles that can also be made available for a future alternate location on public or private property.
4) Preservation and relocation of the approximately 30-foot high Welcome Gate along 44th Street.
5) For up to three years or until the establishment of a new Chinese Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix or elsewhere, the property owner will provide retail space of up to 8,000 square feet – roughly the size of the Irish Cultural Center – to be used as a community cultural center by a non-profit organization.
An alternate site, specifically Hance Park in Downtown Phoenix, may make sense for a relocated Chinese Cultural Center for several reasons.
1) Downtown Phoenix served as the historic neighborhood for the Chinese Community.
2) Hance Park has hosted Phoenix’s Chinese New Year festival since 2013, when it relocated from the struggling then-Chinese Cultural Center.
3) The Irish Cultural Center is adjacent to Hance Park. Adding a Chinese Cultural Center at Hance Park would add to downtown’s diversity in a way other city center parks around the world have done. Relocated elements could serve as notable additions to Hance Park’s open space.
4) With the dramatic decline in the number of Chinese-related tenants over the years and the relocation of major cultural events, the Chinese Cultural Center had effectively stopped operating as one for years.
5) 668 North, LLC will commit to contribute $100,000 to the Hance Park Conservancy, earmarked towards the establishment of a Chinese Cultural Center.
6) The land in Hance Park would be free. Combined with 668 North, LLC’s relocation efforts, its Hance Park Conservancy contribution and the reallocation by Chinese-American organizations of funds raised to potentially buy the property from 668 North, LLC, a new and better experience could be established in an area with greater historic integrity – at far lower cost.
In addition to Hance Park, there may be other locations, public properties or private businesses that could utilize the preserved, relocated features at the Chinese Cultural Center. Other options include the Mekong Plaza and/or Arizona International Marketplace in Mesa which would accentuate their properties with the relocated features from Phoenix.
If a consensus on these options can’t soon be reached, 668 North, LLC will still preserve as many key elements it can off-site until such time that organizations may want to use them in Phoenix or Mesa.
“We hope these various options demonstrate the genuine good faith and creativity we are extending to the community to reach a mutually-beneficial solution. There may be variations on these ideas and we look forward to working with the community to determine the best course of action. We also hope people will understand and respect the investment we have made to invigorate a property that has struggled mightily for many years, as well as the property rights that are very clear. Because we need to move forward with our new corporate headquarters, we will need a solidified direction very soon.” 668 North, LLC President Dave Tedesco said.