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In an ever-changing Downtown Phoenix landscape, the Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA) Center City Awards recognize the lasting contributions of local changemakers.
When the awards were previously known as Center City Starr Awards, individuals honored included public figures like former Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, instrumental in the development of the Footprint Center, and U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, who served in Congress for 23 years.
In recent years, the awards reflected the next generation of placemakers – people who contributed to Phoenix’s entrepreneurial shift. Honorees included Kimber Lanning, the founder of non-profit Local First Arizona, Cindy Dach, the CEO of Changing Hands Bookstore, and Charlie Levy, owner of multiple local venues, like the Crescent Ballroom.
“The Greater Phoenix area is in a constant state of renewal and these awards represent what has and what continues to position our city for the better as a unique place to live, work and play,” PCA Chair Diane Haller said.
The focus of the award, which is given at the Annual PCA Member Luncheon, is acknowledging individuals instrumental in improving the quality of life within the center city. This is where the award gets its name.
Since 1993, past honorees included a wide variety of figures from public life, politicians, business owners, educators and others.
In 2020, the Center City Awards were rebranded and split into two separate awards: Champion and Newcomer, to denote robust, lifetime legacies and influences to our local community, as well as people well on their way to such a standard.
For Kell Duncan and Eva Olivas, this year’s respective Newcomer and Champion winners, they reflect the trend of past recipients striving to make their community more inclusive, and creating interconnectivity through their own non-profits, businesses and efforts.
“I hope [Downtown Phoenix] will be a place that has kept its character, charm and small city feeling, even though it will inevitably continue to grow,” said Kell Duncan, owner of The Churchill. “Growth can be an amazing thing, but we have to be intentional with it, or we will squander so many valuable opportunities.”
Within the local Phoenix community, Duncan is known for The Churchill shipping container retail development, which has served as an incubator for local businesses to open their concepts in a cost-controlled destination venue. Olivas holds the position of executive director for the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, a non-profit spearheading many local improvement projects in the Central City South neighborhoods.
In 2020, Newcomer Dominic Papa and Champion Sheila Harris, Ph.D., received their awards in a private virtual ceremony due to the pandemic.
Local artist Joan Waters reimagined the physical award for that ceremony, taking inspiration from Palo Verde trees, to reflect the hard work of individuals who became the figurative roots to cultivate the betterment of the local community.
The Center City Awards were presented in a hybrid ceremony on Dec. 16 at PCA’s Annual Meeting, held at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, where both honorees received a hand-made, artist-designed award by renowned local sculptor Joan Waters.
Kell Duncan comes from small business roots: His family, who are fifth generation Arizonans, created the successful string of organic farms under the Duncan Family Farms name. After graduating from university in the Pacific Northwest, he briefly worked in real estate marketing and then pivoted to development, creating The Churchill with a business partner. Since its incorporation in 2018, The Churchill has been a collective for small businesses to house their operations, where 10 businesses currently take up space under the 14,000-square-foot footprint. The Churchill keeps its overhead low through several innovative methods, from a structure made up of repurposed shipping containers and forgoing traditional buy-ins for startups. He is a long-term resident of central Phoenix.
For the last 15 years, Eva Olivas served as the executive director of the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, a non-profit focusing on facilitating community improvement projects and creating low-income housing. Yet her efforts there only represent a fraction of the public service record to her community as a Phoenician, serving on countless boards, committees and appointments across 30 years. She is a Phoenix native, attending public colleges like Phoenix College and Arizona State University, studying physical education, and spending much of her life as a local trying to better her community. Wherever Olivas goes, she brings an unwavering vision for bridging the gaps in her community for equal and fair access. Until recently, she used her physical education background as a professional coach at the elementary, high school and junior college level.