GreenHAUS is about to get a little less green — or a lot.
After extensive efforts by the community to compromise and move 222 E. Roosevelt Street, formerly known as GreenHAUS, Baron Properties confirmed in late February that it intended to move forward with the building's demolition on March 30.
However, the 150-ton Roosevelt Row centerpiece that is 222 E. Roosevelt won’t have gone down without a fight.
The building, home to famous DeGrazia murals and Lauren Lee’s mural “Three Birds,” and also a historical location for the 307 Lounge, became the heart of Roosevelt Row after residents Cole and Dayna Reed took it upon themselves to integrate it into the community.
Efforts to preserve the building began as early as September, when community activist Bob Diehl said he began to hear rumors that the Reeds were moving from Phoenix and asked around about it. They confirmed that they were moving to Portland because of Arizona’s restrictions of parental rights for gay couples.
He asked Cole Reed what the developer planned to do with the building.
“She said, ‘They told me the building is worthless, and it’s going to fall down. That it’s useless,’” Diehl said.
Diehl said this struck him as odd because the building was made out of solid brick.
As he was about to begin inquiries about the building’s status, he said one of the Reeds's friends asked him to hold off until after elections as not to distract from efforts to change legislative restrictions on these parental rights.
Disheartened, but understanding of the predicament, Diehl agreed.
“Election Day came and went, and I started asking people if they gave a damn,” Diehl said.
He said he probably wouldn’t have pursued the topic any further if he hadn’t received an onslaught of support from the Roosevelt Row Community.
He began making inquiries about the building, enlisting the help of many community members, including Rob Melikian, who owns the Hotel San Carlos and is a long-time preserver of historical sites in Phoenix.
Melikian said the building was well-constructed and could easily last another 70 to 80 years even if it was incorporated into the apartment building’s construction plans.
That was the moment that Diehl began to suspect that “the developer wasn’t being completely truthful.”
Diehl and Pete Petrisko then published their change.org petition after weeks of debating logistics, like what they wanted to request and the best methods of getting the information out there. The petition took off virally by itself and has 1,556 signatures to date.
Diehl said he and Petrisko met with Scott Fisher, a partner in Baron Properties, on Jan. 6. At this meeting, Diehl and Petrisko said they discussed means of compromise.
Diehl said Baron sounded interested in working with them at the time. However, two days later, Baron Properties applied for a demolition permit. Confused, Diehl tried to contact Baron about the permit and heard no response.
This lack of communication followed Diehl for the next months as he tried to contact and work with Baron Properties.
Despite these complications, Diehl had gathered a team and nearly 1,500 signatures to preserve the building by February. Melikian offered to supply $350,000 to facilitate the move and fully restore the building to working condition on his property.
Throughout the process, Diehl said he and Melikian reached out to Baron, the Mayor’s office and city officials attempting to establish a solid foundation on which they could preserve the structure, with mixed results.
Diehl said some in cases representatives responded positively, telling them Baron Properties would work with them to move the building only to later deny any sort of allegations.
Diehl said he emailed Fisher a final cost proposal and a game plan to move the building. However, Fisher called Diehl telling him he was tired of being jerked around and explicitly saying that he intended to demolish the building, pulling the plug on any future collaboration, Diehl said.
“We’re very supportive of saving the building, but his efforts don’t meet our time frame,” said Fisher.
When asked to elaborate on their time frame or why he cut off discussion with Diehl, Fisher declined to comment.
“I’m entirely disheartened," Diehl said. "We’d gotten solutions all worked out that wouldn’t take much effort on anyone’s part, whether it be Baron or the Mayor’s office, but they aren’t lifting a finger. This is all entirely voluntary.”
Despite this defeat, the impending destruction of 222 E. Roosevelt Street has sparked a conversation within the Phoenix community.
“I think they think it’s worth sending a message to developers that we’re going to save our history, that we’re not just going to let them bulldoze it down,” Melikian said. “If they bulldoze this one, they’re just going to continue to bulldoze. And the building is worth it. It’s united people for all these 75 to 80 years. We hope to continue doing that.”
Turning to government
Diehl said he feels the solution to this problem lies in the hands of city government.
“In days, hundreds of buildings can just be demolished just because the developers feel like it," he said. "That has to change."
He said he believes one of the only solutions to save historical sites in Phoenix is to place heavier regulations on developers and land owners in order to preserve these buildings.
Michelle Dodds, historical preservation officer from Phoenix’s Historical Preservation Commission and one of the four addressees of Diehl’s change.org petition, agreed there was a problem in the lack of adaptive reuse in the Phoenix area.
However, she said she doesn’t believe legislative restrictions are the solution to the problem.
“Maybe we need more incentives, but when you talk about restricting people from tearing stuff down — that’s a problem across the U.S.,” Dodds said.
She said she believes the solution to the problem isn't adding regulations on what business and developers can and can’t tear down, but rather providing further incentives for these businesses to employ an adaptive reuse method. Due to current Arizona statute, it’s difficult or even impossible to bump up restrictions, she said.
Dodds cited Arizona’s 2006 Private Property Protection Rights Act as a law that severely restricts what governments can do to preserve historic sites.
The law requires the government to reimburse property owners when a piece of legislation decreases the property’s value. It also restricts the government from taking private land and putting it to public use.
However, Phoenix has made efforts to preserve these buildings. In 2008, Phoenix began its Adaptive Reuse Program, which provides benefits like permit-fee waivers to developers who meet its requirements.
The program has bumped the amount of completed adaptive reuse projects up from 17 in the first year of the program to 48 by 2013.
While not a massive improvement, it marked a start in Phoenix’s work on historical preservation.
Diehl, however, said he believes further steps need to be taken to invoke change. He and Melikian said they hope the building may act as a spark to stop the slow suburbanization of downtown Phoenix.
“It connects people,” Melikian said. “There’s common memories there for decades, actually generations of this building. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s green to save a historic building rather than tear it down. It preserves local identity, you know, otherwise every city would be the same. This is the story of Phoenix’s history. And the story of Phoenix is only for Phoenix, so it’s a unique history. We hope to preserve as much of it as we can; there’s very few historical buildings left.”
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