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Razed for Raising Cane's: What's happening with Duke Photography?

Duke Photography Sign
Posted at 6:41 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 22:15:41-04

PHOENIX — The building that has housed Duke Photography and served as the backdrop for Arizona senior photos and high school proms for decades could be razed to build a Raising Cane's restaurant. Some community members are worried about losing a piece of history.

Raising Cane's has requested a zoning adjustment hearing with the City of Phoenix seeking variances and use permits to build a restaurant with a drive-thru and outdoor patio where the so-called Duke Photography building is near 7th Avenue and Thomas, according to a copy of the proposal that was shared with the Encanto-Palmcroft Historic Preservation Association, and later shared with ABC15.

According to the proposal, Raising Cane's intends to demolish the building and construct a 3,269-square-foot fast-food restaurant with a 315-square-foot outdoor patio and a drive-thru.

"The existing facility will be demolished...however, Raising Cane's and the landowner are working with the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition to preserve several signs of historic importance during demolition," the project narrative states in one of the documents.

The hearing will be held virtually on June 17, according to the City of Phoenix.

ABC15 reached out to Raising Cane's for comment on Thursday, but we did not receive a response.

Aaron Klusman, a partner at Camelback Partners, a private investment group who bought the building for $2 million earlier this year, told ABC15 that he is passionate about adaptive re-use projects, but said after inspecting the inside of the Duke's Building, he found it had several issues and was "not salvageable."

He said Duke Photography, who previously owned the building, already had plans to relocate.

Darrel Duke, the son of James Duke, who first opened Duke Photography in the 1950s, and now owns the business, told ABC15 on Friday afternoon that he had thought about selling the building for a number of years, even receiving offers from people who wanted to buy it every year.

Now, the timing was right.

"We're not going out of business," he told ABC15. "We haven't slowed down."

Darrel said he still has a number of months left at the current space, but is looking for a new one, potentially in north Scottsdale.

Brent Kleinman, president of the Encanto-Palmcroft Historic Preservation, told ABC15 that he considers the building to be an iconic one in Phoenix and would like to see it preserved rather than torn down.

He also expressed concerns about the traffic that Raising Cane's would potentially bring to the intersection, comparing it to the situation that Dutch Bros. experienced with its location near Central Avenue and Camelback Road.

The City of Phoenix confirmed to ABC15 on Friday that an application to demolish the building, which was built in the 1940s, was submitted in October 2020 and underwent a mandatory 30-day hold because the building was over 50 years old.

During that process, the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office found that the building was eligible for historic recognition and recommended that it be considered for inclusion in the Phoenix Historic Property Register, largely due to Duke Photography and founder, James Duke's community impact over the years.

However, no one initiated that historic preservation process and the 30-day hold passed and a demolition permit was issued, according to Historic Preservation Officer Michelle Dodd. The building owner has one year to actually pull the demolition permit.

She told ABC15 that an email about the demolition application was sent out to the community last fall and said she did not receive a lot of public feedback for or against the proposal.

The Arizona Republic, who first reported about the building's impending demolition, also reported that businesses in the area, such as Nami and Ollie Vaughn's restaurant, were using social media to try and rally support to save the building.

Another concern is that when the demo application was submitted, there were no specific future plans identified.

"The property owner has not specified future use but plans to be consistent with current zoning," a planner with the City of Phoenix said in their report.

For Stacey Champion, a PR professional and someone who helped lead and advocate for changes to the way the historic preservation system works in Phoenix, she feels that the community was misled, which is why the news that Raising Cane's could be moving in, came as a surprise to the community.

"We were led to believe the owner was only trying to gather information on the historical significance of the building, but that there were no plans to tear down or even remodel the building," she said in a statement to ABC15.

"Not only is this a historic (for Phoenix) building, but this lot contains many mature shade trees as well. Had our community known the truth, I guarantee you the community would have made their feelings known to the city in opposition of a teardown," she said.

Because of that, she believes the approved demolition permit should be revoked and that the application process should start over.