Plans to designate historic status to the Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale were temporarily stalled Thursday night over a legal technicality.
Speaking at a public hearing before Scottsdale’s Historic Preservation Commission — a seven-member panel appointed by the City Council — a representative of Arizona State University, owner of the entertainment venue, asked the commission to delay its vote until March.
That is so both parties can explore an alternative to the proposed historic property zoning label that would come with such an honor.
Paul Berumen, ASU’s director of local government relations, said the university respects the public’s desire to see the Kerr Cultural Center — formerly owned by cultural philanthropist Louise Lincoln Kerr — recognized for its historical significance.
“Our ultimate goal is to preserve the building,” said Berumen. He said ASU’s issue is not over the building being listed in Scottsdale’s historic registry, but over statutory jurisdiction.
In a letter sent to the commission Tuesday, Steven Nielsen, assistant vice president of University Real Estate Development, asked the commission to consider engaging in a historic preservation easement with the university rather than designating historic property overlay zoning.
“We need a holistic approach that preserves the historic structures, recognizes ASU’s authority as the responsible agency of the historic property under state statute and also addresses funding opportunities to offset the high cost associated with maintaining adobe buildings in our desert environment,” Nielsen said in the letter.
Some local supporters of the Kerr Cultural Center at the public hearing were surprised at ASU’s last minute request, calling it a delay tactic.
“This is not a new issue. ASU knew of our concerns in May. Asking for a continuance is nothing more than to delay action on the vote,” said Kathy Howard, co-chairwoman of Concerned Citizens for the Kerr Cultural Center.
Others at the hearing were confused over why an easement, which is a contractual agreement, is even necessary when the historic zoning will not affect ASU’s ability to make changes to the property or to sell it.
In September, the commission voted unanimously to initiate a case to formally recognize the Kerr Cultural Center by bestowing it with historic status.
John McDonald, Kerr’s great-grandson, said he was not disappointed over the commission’s decision to delay its vote.
“It’s worth investigating other alternatives,” McDonald said. “The more information, the better.”