Downtown's Leighton G. Knipe House Undergoing Restoration, But Its Future is Uncertain

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Knipe House Side View Post-Fire 2010.jpg
Steve Jansen
Another view of the Knipe House after the 2010 fire.

Graham has been involved with the potential restoration of the Knipe House dating back to 2006, when downtown developer Reid Butler contracted Motley Design Group to do an assessment of the building. It was part of Butler's much-vaunted RO3 project, which sought to transform nearby vacant lots into a snazzy-looking mixed-use development and turn the Knipe House into a restaurant.

The upshot of his involvement in the now-scuttled RO3 endeavor, Graham says, is that Motley had a complete rundown of the building and its design already in its files, which had aided in the reconstruction.

"We were really lucky in that way," Graham says. "When most buildings burn down, you don't normally know what you lost. But since we knew exactly what was lost with the Knipe House we've been able to figure out what to put back and that's a rare thing."

Graham adds that they will completely restore the house's gable roof to its original wood shingled state, in addition to reinstating the structure to a single-family dwelling.

"Beyond that," he says, "There's going to be quite a bit of work for whoever takes on the project next."

Therein lies the rub, as Cox tells Jackalope Ranch that the future role of the historic building is currently hazy and could either serve as the home for residential or commercial, or simply wind up cold and vacant again, the state it was before the fire that nearly ruined it in June 2010.

As for the fate of the historic building beyond its partial restoration, Cox says that is entirely up in the air.

"We're evaluating that now," he says. "We hope to issue requests for proposals sometime after the project is complete, perhaps in the early the summer, in the hopes of having someone come in and take over the property and finish the restoration."

Whether that means transforming the Knipe house into an adaptive reuse project like a restaurant, gallery, or boutique depends on whoever responds to the city's request for proposals, Cox says. (It's also undetermined if the city, which purchased the property in 2004, will sell the house outright or retain ownership while leasing it out.)

"The house was a residential property when it caught fire, so we can only rebuild it, stabilize it, and return it back to a residential use," he says. "So it would really be up to the [proposal] process to determine what it could possibly be. We haven't determined whether it will be residential or commercial, so I'm assuming it could be [adapted] for either use."

According to Maricopa County Assessor's office, the property is currently under residential zoning. Since it falls within the boundaries of the city's "Arts, Culture and Small Business Overlay" -- a exemption where properties withing a roughly five-mile radius encompassing the downtown arts district are allowed "greater flexibility" in zoning to help foster small businesses and creative ventures -- it's entirely possible that the Knipe House could be home to a gallery, retailer, or another arts-oriented endeavor.

Cox doesn't rule out the possibility of using leftover funds from the insurance settlement towards cosmetic upgrades like a paint job but says that its highly unlikely.

"If there's money left in the budget after the stabilization of the structure is done and the insurance company authorizes us to use those additional funds for exterior paint, we would like to do that. But at this point we don't have the money to do it and the insurance company is only paying to repair the fire damage."

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Leighton G. Knipe House

1025 N. 2nd St., Phoenix, AZ

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