2001–2004: Deciding Plaza Policy

With the initial planning accomplished by January 2001, the Executive Committee pushed to move all the elements of the project forward towards the groundbreaking. The original hope was to break ground by 2002, but this timetable proved to be unrealistic given the scope of the project and its base of volunteer labor. In addition, the recession following September 11 made fundraising extremely challenging in 2002 and 2003 as potential donors had less money to donate. Furthermore, the cost of concrete was rising sharply due to an international shortage, causing increases in the price of construction. 

A number of important personnel additions occurred in 2002 that helped the project to move forward despite these setbacks. As part of Campaign Arizona, Women’s Studies received funds to pay for a part-time support position for the Plaza. Molly Holleran was selected for this position; she went on to become a mainstay of the project and eventually became a full administrative assistant in Women’s Studies after years of a patchwork salary. In addition, in 2002 Social and Behavioral Sciences hired Ginny Healy as its new development officer. Healy started attending most meetings for the Plaza and her consistent wisdom about fundraising was invaluable. In fall 2002 Ed Donnerstein came on board as dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He was very supportive of fundraising in general and wanted to expand the SBS development office; the Plaza fit with this goal and he offered continual affirmation of the project. (Click here to see the members of the Development Office who have been involved with the Women’s Plaza of Honor.) In addition, Libba Wheat asked Caryl Clements, one of the landscape architects from her office, to work with her on developing the details of the design, thereby adding yet another creative resource to the Plaza team. (Click here to learn the members of the Landscape Architects Design Team.) 

During this period the Executive Committee made many of the decisions that defined how the Plaza would meet its mission. Committee members had to find a balance between the desire to build an artistic and visually appealing monument and the desire to maximize funds raised for UA Women’s Studies. They also had to fulfill the Plaza’s commitment to honoring all women. The Executive Committee did not shrink from these challenges and the end result of these decisions was the Plaza’s aura of formal elegance combined with democratic openness. 

In 2001 as the landscape architects finalized their design with an estimated cost of over $1 million. This proposal made it imperative for members of the Executive Committee to consider how much could be spent to build the Plaza. Members of the committee held diverse opinions. Some people felt that the proposed cost was not too high because the beauty of the Plaza would attract more donors. Others felt that the cost needed to be controlled, so that Women’s Studies could begin to see some endowment within five years. Once again members exhibited the exceptional ability to listen to each other, and find an acceptable resolution. The compromise was to cut some design elements completely and postpone others. Thus the Plaza’s initial construction was viewed only as an early phase, with the potential for later phases to add elements like a tile mural and entrance columns in the south plaza, or a maze dome mounted on art columns in the central plaza. Trimming the initial design brought the basic construction costs down to under $1 million while keeping the main design elements of the Plaza intact. 

The Executive Committee also faced the need to resolve the tension between attracting major donors to fund the Plaza and ensuring all women could be honored in the Plaza regardless of the financial resources of their families and friends. After much debate, and taking into consideration the views of the Design and Construction, Fundraising, and Publicity Sub-committees, the project team decided that there should be a range of naming opportunities. A portion of the larger design elements--arches, fountains, and gardens-- were priced at $25,000 and above; the benches were priced for $10,000 and $15,000; and the light posts and trees were priced at $5000. Once a substantial portion of these items were sold, the Executive Committee agreed to open up more than 2000 opportunities for under $1000, including pavers and leaves for $100, $200, $500 and $750. This donation structure was designed to encourage major donors to buy the bigger items because of their special features, while still giving a large number of people the opportunity to honor an influential woman and add to the Plaza’s historical record. 

In turn this range of opportunities raised questions about how many people a donor could honor when buying a larger item. A limit was necessary due to the space available for engraving as well as potential constraints on the size of the Web site. The project leadership determined that for large donations space would be reserved for one honoree for each $1000 or fraction thereof given. The discussions about space led to questions about how much space honorees could have on the Web site. With the help of technical consultants, the project team learned that one advantage of the Web over printed matter was that increasing the numbers of honorees would not necessarily lead to a higher cost for operating the database. Once this determination was made the project team felt comfortable allotting every honoree the same amount of space for her life story and picture. 

By 2003 the Executive Committee was faced with another major decision about whether to take out a loan against the pledges and future sales in order start construction. Again the members were divided on this matter. Those who were more fiscally conservative, some of whom were experienced fundraisers, urged caution. They felt taking out a loan would diminish the possibilities of fundraising for Women’s Studies as money would need to be raised to pay off the loan. But others felt that construction needed to begin, particularly since building costs were continuing to rise. Furthermore, those in favor of the loan believed that the physical presence of the Plaza would attract many more donors. Dean Donnerstein, the person who would negotiate the loan, advocated this position. 

After thorough discussion, the Executive Committee decided the project needed to begin construction to maintain momentum and moved forward with the loan. However, they were fiscally conservative in their approach. Members of the Executive Committee helped to identify a low interest loan that would not take effect until the building actually started and the money was needed.