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The City Of Phoenix Is Moving Forward With Plans To Open A Latino Cultural Center

After 17 years of hitting roadblocks and issues with location, Phoenix, Arizona looks like it will finally have its own Latino cultural center. This month, the Phoenix City Council took action on the issue and voted in favor of moving forward with the project that was originally approved for $1.4 million in bond funding by Phoenix voters in 2001. The location of the cultural center is tentatively planned to be at the North Building at Margaret T. Hance Park, near downtown Phoenix. 

While the city is moving forward with plans, there is still disagreement with some about the location of the cultural center and fulfilling the rest of the funding needs. According to the Phoenix New Times, “Organizers would need to raise sufficient funds for North Building renovations by the end of 2023. Current estimates put renovation costs at about $12 million.”

While there is a growing need for a space that represents and shows the visibility of Latinos in Phoenix, the city still has questions about whether this location will fit those needs. 

Phoenix has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country and is expected to surpass 50 percent of the Arizona population by 2020. With a growing demographic, the Latino Cultural Center hopes to be a space that Latino artists can showcase the diversity and impact the population has had in America’s Southwest region. When it comes to programming,  the center would also have an “annual cultural festival” and a “community kitchen,” among other projects. But to accomplish this goal, the city has to fully support and agree on a location that meets these needs. 

As part of a study that was commissioned by the city of Phoenix, it recommends that the Latino Cultural Center be a “visible” presence in downtown Phoenix as well as being “on par and in company” with other nearby art and culture centers. 

City Councilman Carlos Garcia says that the location of this project is a huge roadblock to overcome since the currently proposed location lacks significance when it comes to the Latino community. 

“The Hance location kind of doesn’t allow us to grow from there. And it also doesn’t hold cultural significance, specifically to the Latino/Chicano from Phoenix,” Garcia said at the recent meeting concerning the center. “I had an artist call me about it and say, ‘Our communities were redlined and were not allowed north of whatever-Van Buren or the tracks-and so how can we set something up like where our communities weren’t even allowed.”

Despite some disagreements, Phoenix is ready to move forward with the project that it hopes it can get started on in the next few years. 

While there are still some questions about the location of the center, Councilwoman Thelda Williams said that this month’s vote was the most progress the project has made in becoming a reality. She said that only stalling the project even longer might hurt its long term viability. 

“For 17 years, we’ve been pursuing this,” Williams told AZ Central. “I know not everyone is happy with this building, but as you stated, doing this review and analysis of the building is truly going to be suitable. I wanted us to keep moving forward.”

As of now, there is $997,902 in available bond funding towards the center which means that the city would have to start a capital funding campaign to meet the financial needs for the project. This is where the city would need more people on board with the project if it is to keep moving forward, most importantly the support of the local Latino community which has voiced it has felt left out of the planning process. 

“It’s been in the works for so long that now everyone is disenfranchised,” Latina choreographer Liliana Gomez told Phoenix New Times. “People are feeling a little bit voiceless. If the center happens, I’ll be supportive. In the meantime, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

While the Hance Park location isn’t definitive, the city council has left it’s options open if another location or large sum donation is given to build the center somewhere else. Nonetheless, Phoenix is making progress on a project that has been years long overdue and is something that Latinos rightfully deserve. Councilmember Laura Pastor voiced this message at the city meeting and echoed the sentiment many have felt about the cultural center finally moving forward. 

“The city of Phoenix’s Latino arts and culture community is rich, vibrant and ever-evolving. This center will be a home for more than just art. It will encompass storytelling, cultural foods, music, programs, and festivals. Today’s vote is a vital step in the 18-year process to provide our City with the long-overdue Latino Cultural Center it deserves.”

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