Phoenix Moves Forward On Latino Cultural Center, But Where?

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 8:27pm
Updated: Wednesday, September 23, 2020 - 7:54am

exterior of former church
Christina Estes/KJZZ
The recommended location for a Latino Cultural Center is on the northwest corner of Third and Moreland streets in downtown Phoenix.

City leaders unanimously agreed Tuesday that Phoenix should oversee a new Latino Cultural Center for its first five years, in partnership with a nonprofit or collective. After five years, the city plans to turn over operations to the nonprofit or collective. 

The council also approved setting up a group called Friends of Latino Cultural Center to recruit board members and help raise money along with a citywide effort to promote the center before it even opens. But exactly where it will open remains unclear.

“This is going to be a jewel of the city of Phoenix and I believe it’s going to be a destination point for the center of Phoenix also,” said Councilman Michael Nowakowski who co-chaired the ad hoc committee tasked with developing a strategic plan for the Latino Cultural Center and researching site options.

In 2019, the ad hoc committee recommended a former church located next to Hance Park near Third Street and McDowell Road. The downtown location, referred to as the North Building, is a 23,691-square-foot building that has 148 parking spaces and access to light rail and bus stops. Current rehabilitation costs are estimated at $12,056,800. Phoenix has $997,902 from a 2001 city bond program that’s been set aside to promote Latino culture.

In 2016, the city hired a consultant to conduct a feasibility study. Based on community input, focus groups and site visits, two main themes emerged:

  • A desire for a visible Latino cultural presence in Phoenix at the heart of the city’s cultural center.
  • Latino Cultural Center should be on par and in company with Phoenix’s other major cultural institutions and art centers located downtown.

In December 2019, the City Council  approved the North Building while also directing staff to explore other sites. The council’s directive to explore other sites came after Councilmember Carlos Garcia said he couldn’t support the downtown location because there’s no historical significance to the Latino community. 

During Tuesday’s meeting Garcia said, “I still think we have a lot of work to do and we need to make sure that, because of all the years that it took, that we get something that’s amazing, whether it’s at north Hance Park or we're able to find somewhere else to do a buildup from scratch to make sure that we get what we deserve. With the Latino population being what it is in the city of Phoenix at 44%, I think we deserve a great cultural center.”

A spokesperson for  Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture told KJZZ: “The North Building is not the final site, but was approved to be utilized for the Latino Cultural Center, while also considering other sites around the city. Council has basically allowed us to take the North Building ‘off the market’ while we work with Community and Economic Development and Finance/Real Estate on other sites for consideration. We started the process of reviewing other sites at the start of the pandemic, so we are regrouping on that now.”

Previous locations considered by the ad hoc committee included:

Downtown sites

  • Regency Garage at southwest corner of Second and Adams streets.
  • Public Market parking grounds at southwest corner of 1st and McKinley streets.
  • Herberger Theater grounds at southwest corner of 3rd and Monroe streets.

Other city-owned sites considered

  • Northeast corner of Seventh Street and Buckeye Road.
  • Aviation land reuse “Spark” areas.
  • Del Rio Landfill.
  • Southeast corner of Broadway Road and Central Avenue.
  • Southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway Road.