The City of Scottsdale near Phoenix, Arizona is about to launch $27.3 million in Civic Center Mall renovations, with significant implications for local arts and culture.
The City of Scottsdale in Arizona is undertaking a $27.3 million renovation of its Civic Center Mall, a municipal complex that’s home to several of the city’s key cultural resources, including Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, as well as Scottsdale Civic Center Library and Scottsdale Historical Museum.
Scottsdale Civic Center Mall is located in a downtown hub called Old Town where the Scottsdale ArtWalk has been a weekly affair since 1975. In 1971, the Scottsdale Arts Festival launched with participating artists that included Philip Curtis and Paolo Soleri.
Renovations will include adding a permanent outdoor stage for live music and theater performances, several busker platforms, and a community plaza for outdoor events such as dance performances, movie screenings, fitness classes, and art workshops. The plan also calls for new gardens, expanded tent space, an interactive water and fog plaza, a history museum courtyard, a grove with picnic and game tables, new restrooms, and improved accessibility.
“This will lower the barrier for people who are less interested in going into a theater space, and we’ll be able to reach more people with affordable community-based events,” says Gerd Wuestemann, president and CEO of Scottsdale Arts.
Scottsdale Arts has contracted with the city since 1988, managing city-owned facilities and programs that include the performing arts center, a contemporary art museum, and public art. It also provides arts education and outreach and presents cultural events such as the Scottsdale Arts Festival and Canal Convergence.
Civic Center Mall has been around for more than fifty years. It was part of architect Bennie Gonzales’s 1966 master plan for the city’s municipal complex, which also includes City Hall. The fourteen-acre Civic Center complex cost $2.54 million in 1968, according to city records. Since then, it’s undergone several improvements.
The latest renovations will be funded through a 2019 voter-approved bond, and the project is being coordinated by the city’s planning and development division. The city plans to begin construction in October 2021, and fully reopen the renovated space in January 2023. The art museum and performing arts center will remain open while work is being done.
“We’ll be able to expand existing events and create new ones so we can bring in larger, more diverse audiences and do more programming year-round,” Wuestemann says of the project. “It’ll open up more dates on our calendar, and provide more opportunities for local artists to be involved.”
Wuestemann says they hope to partner with other groups for events like outdoor Shakespeare productions and classical music concerts under the stars. They’re also planning a series of springtime festivals, and a refresh of the Scottsdale Arts Festival that will include additional weekends and a robust lineup of musical performances. Even culinary arts and fashion are part of his vision.
The project will include relocating several works of public art to other sites around the city. Wuestemann expects both Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture and Louise Nevelson’s Windows to the West to be part of the renovated campus. New public art works will include an installation by Tucson-based artist Barbara Grygutis inside a tunnel beneath a central lawn.
“The city council has talked about this for years but the challenge was always finding the funding,” explains Karen Churchard, tourism and events director for the City of Scottsdale. “When the city looked at doing a bond, the Civic Center Mall was a top priority for community members, so we knew the timing was right.”
Churchard hopes the changes will draw more locals and tourists to downtown Scottsdale, especially as all eyes turn to metropolitan Phoenix during Super Bowl LVII in 2023.
This is just one of fifty-eight projects the city will undertake with recent bond funding totaling $319 million. One of those projects is a $1.2 million renovation and modernization of the Stage 2 performance space inside Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Wuestemann wants to make that space more flexible, so it can serve as a flat floor production space, a cabaret-style environment, or a traditional auditorium to seat 180 people. He’s hoping to start construction by summer or fall of 2022.
He’s got other plans, as well, including expanding Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Most likely we’ll expand the museum in its current location, but a couple of buildings could be in play,” he says. “We are looking at strategies to purchase some property and expand the museum and build an education center next to it.” He figures those plans will become more concrete in the next year or so, with a build-out starting in two or three years.
“I am excited beyond belief that we are moving ahead so quickly,” Wuestemann says. “For Scottsdale Arts, this is just the beginning.”
The City of Scottsdale is accepting public comments through June 11 on its Civic Center Mall improvement plan.