Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eyeful Tower

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Other major cities have space needles, arches and towers. Does Phoenix need a useless tall thing, too?

When the Eiffel Tower opened in 1889, naysayers saw a blight on the Paris skyline. Seattle’s Space Needle moved one British writer in 1962 to say it was “like having to live with a velvet portrait of Jesus.” St. Louis’ Gateway Arch was designed in 1947 but met such stiff resistance it wasn’t built until 1965.


Today, it’s impossible to think of these cities and not picture their signature monuments. Phoenix needs such a landmark structure, says developer Brian L. Stowell of Novawest-LLC: “Not to take anything away from spring training, golf courses, or Scottsdale, but any city needs to have a vibrant urban center.”

Stowell thinks a $50 million, 420-foot-tall Phoenix Observation Tower will draw people and their money Downtown, and also add a unique feature to the city skyline. Housing a restaurant, lounge, conference and exhibit spaces, plus an observation deck, the tower would accommodate corporate meetings, field trips, and weddings. “There’ll be a reason to spend six hours Downtown instead of three hours,” says Stowell’s business partner, Valley political consultant Jay Thorne.

The project now is just a blueprint. It will be privately funded by investors, loans, tax credits, and naming rights, Stowell says, but he won’t say whose money is being pursued. Not even the location is settled, though a plot next to the Arizona Science Center is a strong candidate. If the city approves the project, it could be ready when the Valley hosts the 2015 Super Bowl, visible to 135 million TV viewers.

The spiraling, spherical design has been likened to a kitchen whisk, a golf ball on a tee, and the Death Star. Renowned Copenhagen-born architect Bjarke Ingels, whose design Novawest picked last year, does cite Star Wars as an influence, along with petroglyphs, the Phoenix logo and aerial views of copper mines.

Stowell says construction could bring about 800 jobs to the city. The tower’s day-to-day operations could employ about 200.

“What an awesome idea,” Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot enthuses. “I applaud the vision of the developer. This tower will be an iconic, signature building on par with the Space Needle in Seattle or the St. Louis Gateway Arch.”

Though a fan of Ingels’ work, J. Erik Ryden of Phoenix firm Ryden Architects Inc. complains the map-pin look doesn’t say “Phoenix.” The tower “gives me the sense of being a project looking for a site,” he says. “It is simply not bringing anything new to the city that it doesn’t already have.”

Thorne is undeterred. “We have found that people either instantly get it and are excited about it, or they’re never going to get it,” he says. “Ten years from now we’ll wonder, ‘Was that ever not here?’”

 

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