Last week I wrote a post criticizing ASU’s and the City of Phoenix’s decision to replace the landmark Sahara Motor Inn (aka Ramada Inn) with a parking lot. In addition to the other blog posts that I previous mentioned (and a subsequent new post), this short-sighted decision was the topic of discussion at last Saturday’s Downtown Voices Coalition meeting. This discussion led to a letter from Steve Weiss to the Mayor, City Council, ASU, City Staff, ASU Staff and the citizens of Phoenix. Additionally the AZ Republic has caught wind of the opposition.
After having some time to think about it, I cam to the conclusion that the best defense of the building is a good offense. Instead of simply objecting to the proposed demolition, I have come up with a proposed alternative that speaks to the state mission of goals of both ASU and the City of Phoenix.
Rather than thinking of the Sahara/Ramada as a dilapidated hotel, why not think in more dynamic terms? With a little bit of patience and creative thinking, the hotel could be a space that fosters the ideas of tomorrow as an incubator for social innovators and local enterprises. This would be a concrete manifestation of ASU’s commitment to social embeddedness and the City of Phoenix’s commitment to a livelier, more integrated and sustainable downtown.
Such a social incubator could include the following uses:
The various hotel rooms could easily be transformed into work spaces for social entrepreneurs to develop new companies and community organizations. They could be offered on various lease terms, including yearly, monthly weekly or even hourly, depending on the needs of the entrepreneurs.
The spaces could target ASU students, alumni and downtown community members, whether they be freelancers, visitors, part-time activists or full-time innovators. These space would be rented at low rates; just enough to cover the cost of utilities and other basic operating costs, such as wifi, security, cleaning and shared office equipment. They could also be sponsored by local foundations and through donations from business and corporate entities.
The larger spaces in the hotel could transformed into a variety of meeting and event spaces for the social entrepreneurs mentioned above, as well as ASU and the downtown community. These spaces would allow these social creatives to learn, connect and create in a dynamic shared environment.
They could host events ranging from non-profit board meetings to alumni book launches as well as a variety of networking and media events. Again, these spaces could be rented to covered basic operating costs or supported through sponsorship opportunities.
Perhaps most importantly, the biggest spaces such as the old restaurant could be used as a ‘creative community center.’ It could offer a range of planned activities from open dialogue debates and capacity-building workshops. The space would allow creative people to ‘plug-in to the larger community and connect, converse, learn and create.
One model for this connecting space is PieLab, an innovative community space in Greensboro, Alabama that provides pie and coffee, as well as retail and hospitality job training for local youth. Thus as well as being a coffee shop, it operates ‘as a community design center’ focusing on community development projects and small business incubation.
The pool area could be used as a space for tenants and community members to unwind and socialize. It could also be rented to community groups for events or even used as an outdoor all ages nightclub for ASU students and local youth, generating money for maintenance and operations. a cafe or restraint could be attached to it, perhaps connected to a ‘PieLab’ type kitchen facility.
This is not simply a ‘pie’ in the sky idea. It is based on a very real and successful enterprise in another city. For more information on a similar model of community innovation, check out the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto, Canada.
This is a single concept that I have come up with on my own and with minimal research. Surely with a bit of effort, the combined minds of ASU, city staff and the community, we can come up with something even more creative and fitting for downtown Phoenix.
At the very least, we can come up with something more worthy than a parking lots and a vague promise of a ASU building in the not so foreseeable future.
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