'A tremendous tribute to a great woman': Phoenix unveils Thelda Williams Transit Center

By Kirsten Dorman
Published: Friday, November 17, 2023 - 5:55pm

From a parking lot, the Thelma Williams Transit Center is the main focus of this image. It is a two-level open-air structure. One of two escalators is somewhat visible here. Construction materials lay in the foreground.
Kirsten Dorman/KJZZ
The Phoenix city council voted in May to name the new transit center after former Councilwoman Thelda Williams, who died November 14, 2023, at age 82.

Thelda Williams was a fixture in Phoenix politics for decades. The former mayor and councilwoman — who died Tuesday at age 82 — pushed for improvements to Sky Harbor Airport, water infrastructure and the transit system.

The City Council voted this spring to name a new transit center after her. On Friday, current and former city leaders gathered to unveil it.

“We’re here, gathered officially, for the very first time, at the Thelda Williams Transit Center,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “That has a great ring to it.”

Gallego said the center is at the intersection of two things Williams cared about most: “Our transit system and the redevelopment of Metrocenter.”

When the center opens, it’ll serve people in the district Williams represented for over 20 years.

“This transit center and our entire transit system, which Thelda championed for so long, is one of the many, many examples of how she touched and improved the lives of every person in Phoenix,” said Gallego. “And how her legacy will endure far beyond even our lifetimes.”

portrait of woman
City of Phoenix
Thelda Williams

Williams pushed for light rail extensions there, and Councilwoman Debra Stark said seeing it finally happen is a testament to her patience and spirit.

One of her last wishes was to see the center.

“Unfortunately, she passed before we could give her the tour,” said Stark. “But we felt like we still needed to do this event not just for her and her family, but for all of us because we are grieving. She was such a wonderful leader.”

Stark says Williams was a mentor, a friend, and “one of those [elected officials] who was out there, helping people.”

City manager Jeff Barton echoed that sentiment.

“Thelda was a generational politician,” Barton said of the three-time interim mayor. “I admired her courage. I admired her leadership. And let’s not forget her fashion sense.”

Barton said that when the transit center opens, “that legacy will last for decades.”

Several former mayors spoke briefly about Williams: memories of her, her legacy moving forward and the transit center as part of that. Terry Goddard, who served as mayor from 1984 to 1990, said the center is “a tremendous tribute to a great woman.”

A plaque will go up in the center with a photo of Williams and a description of what Gallego called “a small part of her legacy.”

Passengers on the multi-level center’s top floor will board the light rail, and buses will pick people up on the ground level.

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Politics Transportation