Former Mayor Envisions New Life For Phoenix Church Destroyed By Fire In 1984

Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 5:35pm
Updated: Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 5:36pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
The bell tower used to be one of the tallest structures in downtown Phoenix when the First Baptist Church was built in 1929.

The First Baptist Church on Monroe Street in downtown Phoenix was built in 1929. But, in 1984, a fire burned much of it to the ground.

Back then, Terry Goddard was mayor of Phoenix and he kept what was left of the church from being bulldozed.

Now, decades later, he’s still working to keep the historic building alive and he’s finally starting to see the end of the road.

“As long as I was mayor, we were able to keep the shoring in the street,” he said. “As soon as I left office, that went away. And so, the city immediately condemned it.”

So, he started a non-profit organization to create affordable housing projects and one of their target areas was the First Baptist Church.

“We thought we could do an historic restoration of the church and have affordable housing in it,” he said. But, that turned out to be much more difficult than he expected.

They ended up developing affordable housing just next door to the abandoned church, until about two years ago, when Goddard said they scraped together enough money to do the structural renovations that were necessary for the building to be occupied again.

“What the city required us to do was to build a complete steel building inside the old brick building,” Goddard said. “And so the brick is now, more or less, ornamental.”

In order for them to market the space to developers, Goddard said they had to do the fundamental reconstruction work. “You’re not going to want to open a restaurant or a bar or a gallery here unless you know for sure that the walls are going to stand up,” he said.

Now, he’s bringing in contractors to find out how much it will cost to develop the old church atrium, offices, assembly hall and bell tower into new commercial use space.

Goddard sees the center atrium of the church being redeveloped into an event space, theater or wedding venue.

Other areas, including a rooftop area, could become restaurants, events, coffee shops, galleries or bars, he said.

But, why has a former mayor spent decades of his life trying to save this building, anyway?

Well, Goddard said, it’s a piece of Phoenix history.

“I felt that the resonance of these walls was significant and it was part of our history and something that people would treasure in the future, if we could only hold onto it,” he said. “So, I feel my job has been, over the past 25 years, to make sure that nothing worse happened to it. And then, hopefully, now we’re at the stage where we can make things much better.”

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