The owner of Monti’s La Casa Vieja has scrapped plans to build a 300-foot-tall tower directly above the historic adobe restaurant after a barrage of criticism from preservationists.
Michael Monti still is planning for two towers to rise on his downtown Tempe property, but he has agreed to move one of them.
Monti’s new plan comes weeks after the city’s Historic Preservation Commission objected to the idea of putting a 25-story building over the Valley’s oldest structure, built in 1871.
Historic preservationists argued the building’s history would be overshadowed by a glass-and-steel tower. And the original plan likely would get the building kicked off a state and a national historic register, the state’s historic preservation officer has said.
While Monti argued he was preserving the interior, he and developer 3W Companies accommodated the historic commission’s request to move the new building.
“It’s as important in the restaurant business, like politics, to have as high an approval as possible,” said Jason Rose, a spokesman for Monti.
The new plan will likely get a good reception now, said Bob Gasser, chairman of Tempe’s historic commission. The group will hear the new proposal Thursday.
“Even some of the strongest voices, I think, will be pleased with this,” Gasser said.
If the group signs off on the plan, the towers face another source of opposition: The City of Phoenix.
The buildings are about 80 feet too tall given their place in the flight path, Phoenix aviation director Danny Murphy told Tempe officials in a letter.
The buildings could pose a risk to planes departing from Sky Harbor International Airport in the rare event that an airliner lost one engine during takeoff. To clear the building safely, Phoenix says the building shouldn’t exceed 220 feet.
Anything taller would require airlines to put less weight on their planes to ensure they could clear the building safely, Murphy wrote.
Rose said he wasn’t worried about the height issue. Phoenix has objected to the height of Tempe projects before, Rose said, only to have the Federal Aviation Administration indicate specific buildings weren’t a hazard.
Monti still plans to keep about 11,000 square feet that make up the oldest parts of the restaurant while tearing down more modern additions. The towers would contain more than 1 million square feet of hotel rooms, condos and shops.
Monti is working to sell the land to 3W Companies, which is working on the tower proposals, but he plans to keep running the restaurant that his father bought in the 1950s. The Monti family has owned the building longer than the Hayden family, which includes Tempe founder Charles Trumbull Hayden. He built the structure and founded the Hayden Flour Mill.
Some critics of Monti’s plan questioned his commitment to preserving history, but Gasser said Monti always has shown passion for the place. He credited Monti for making the changes and said the buildings are positioned to highlight the historic structure.
“He’s been very dedicated to historic preservation, so I don’t have any doubts about his intentions,” Gasser said.
The new design seems to respect the adobe building, said Vic Linoff, owner of the downtown shop Those Were the Days! Linoff is active in historic preservation and said the original plan would have angered some people.
“I think you would have seen preservationists wrapping their arms around that building and trying to save it,” Linoff said.
The new configuration preserves history while letting Monti develop his land at Rio Salado Parkway and Mill Avenue, which Linoff called the Boardwalk and Park Place of Tempe.
“I think what this demonstrates is you can accommodate community standards and still build a successful project,” Linoff said.
Garin Groff, Tribune