ASU provides hope for an iconic downtown building and its residents
The Westward Ho was one of Arizona's pre-eminent hotels when it opened in the late 1920s. It was the center of the Phoenix social scene and hosted presidents and movie stars over the years. The Valley's first TV station, KPHO, built a studio and added a huge antenna in the 1950s, creating an identifable landmark or eyesore depending on with whom you speak.
But the reputation of the Westward Ho faded in the 1970s as new owners faced financial difficulties and competition from newer hotels and the convention center. The hotel was sold and in 1979, the hotel's 600 rooms were converted into almost 300 apartments for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
While the hotel's former rooms were put to good use, a section of the first floor where a restaurant, music venue and retail shop were once located remained empty.
Michael Shafer, a professor in the School of Social Work and the director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, would walk by the building and wonder, "What if?" He envisioned creating a clinic for students from various downtown programs to work with residents.
ASU already had a health and nutrition clinic on the second floor of the building run by the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. So he began a dialogue with the building's owners, who are based in Providence, Rhode Island.
The Westward Ho and ASU's renovation of that first-floor space is the subject of a story in the August 2015 issue of Phoenix Magazine.
“We felt that we could do much more to work with our neighbors, take advantage of the proximity and do social good while creating opportunities for our students to learn and creating opportunities for our researchers to better understand solutions to the problems that we’re interested in,” Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions told the magazine. “The opportunity for this win-win-win-win — I’ve lost track of the wins — but the opportunity was just sort of staring us in the face — literally staring us in the face every day when we would walk out the front door of our building.”
When complete, the renovation will offer clinic space for social work and nursing students, offices for the Center for Applied Behavior Health Policy, and community space in what was a signature area of the hotel, its famed Concho room, where many popular bands and singers performed.