Restoring pieces of Phoenix history (Republic editorial)

[Source: Arizona Republic, June 16, 2008] — Phoenix, a city once smitten with everything new, is now romancing its older sections as a way to preserve, beautify, and energize.  And this time, it’s not just talk.  That’s evidenced by a series of actions that implemented a plan to make “adaptive reuse” more common and easier to do.  The progress was promoted and bolstered by a vocal and surprisingly influential cadre of activist citizens and buoyed by a number of recent commercial successes across the city that are included within Small Wonders, Local First Arizona’s pocket-sized guide to shopping and dining in central Phoenix.

Don’t believe it?  Think that such innovative thinking, such a reverence for the past was more suited to Portland, Austin, or San Francisco?  Look again.  Better yet, check out the Downtown Voices Web site and scroll down to a June 9 entry that chronicles the success stories, the missed opportunities, and the great potential to redevelop older houses into restaurants and businesses, to transform industrial spaces and warehouses into studio apartments and art galleries.  It’s a video collection of Phoenix “treasures” that will inspire you — ones that you might even visit: Cibo, La Grande Orange, the Bentley galleries, Hotel Monroe, the Antique Store, and the Genesis charter school.

Even more significantly, city management and the Developmental Services Department officials seem to embrace the concept.  In recent years, we heard horror stories how code-enforcement, fire, and other regulators placed all kinds of requirements and roadblocks in the way of such developments.  But as if on cue, the market started rewarding those persistent entrepreneurs, now seen as visionary innovators.

The Phoenix City Council listened.  City staff took notice.  The community advocates, including Local First, Downtown Voices, and downtown artists echoed author Jane Jacobs’ counsel: “New ideas must use old buildings.”  City policies reflect the changing attitudes:

  • A second development code, The International Existing Building Code, geared for older buildings, offers some practical relief on renovations while maintaining public safety.
  • Creation of an Office of Customer Advocacy to help small businesses confused by the regulatory process.
  • Participation directly in the Downtown Artist Issues Task Force.
  • Appointed a 21-member Adaptive Reuse Task Force with representatives from the city manager’s office, the City Council and several city departments. The task force will develop comprehensive recommendations by this fall. It might borrow from successful policies used in Denver, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

This newfound interest down at City Hall about incorporating old buildings into new uses?  The adaptive reuse of existing space for new businesses?  It’s not just lip service.

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